Bay Area Wonders Anthology: In Praise of Abalone, California Poppies, and Other Astonishments

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Bay Area Wonders

In Praise of Abalone, California Poppies, and Other Astonishments


Hillsborough, CA 94010

650-350-4600 © 2024, Text by the 2024 Fifth Grade Students at The Nueva School. Published 2024 by The Nueva School. Cover and illustrations by the 2024 Fifth Grade Students.

The Nueva School Hillsborough Campus 6565 Skyline Blvd.
Photos by Cristina Veresan. Created by Kylie E-M, Lucia v. G., and Mia T.



Acorn Woodpecker BY YUNI L.

Allen’s Hummingbird BY KEIRA H.

American Beaver BY ALEX M.

Bat Ray BY LUKE X.

Bay Checkerspot Butterfly BY TONY C.

Bay Ghost Shrimp BY AUBRI G.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit BY PREZ P-F.


Brush Rabbit BY MACKENZIE H.

Bullwhip Kelp BY TOBY G.

California Ground Squirrel BY LUNA G.

California Kangaroo Rat BY MANASVI S.

California Least Tern BY WILLIAM A.

California Lilac BY CLARA S. S.

California Pitcher Plant BY EVAN J.

California Poppy BY BEN F.

California Red-legged Frog BY GRAY C.

California Sea Lion BY KYLIE S.

California Slender Salamander BY BECKETT B.

California Tiger Salamander BY FINN F.

California Vole BY CAROLINE L.

Coast Dudleya BY DARREN S.

Coast Redwood BY GRAY K.

Coyote BY TALIA R. R.

Douglas Iris BY NYLA S.

Dungeness Crab BY DARWIN Q.

Dusky-footed Woodrat BY ZOEY L.

Flame Skimmer BY ELIZABETH T.

Giant Green Sea Anemone BY VALERIE H.

Giant Kelp BY GRACE J.


Golden Eagle BY GAVIN H.


Great Horned Owl BY MADDY H.

Great White Shark BY IAN W.

Harbor Seal BY GRADY C.

Leopard Shark BY ALEX A.

Long-tailed Weasel BY AVERY E-M.

Monarch Butterfly BY SKYLER J.

Monkeyface Prickleback BY COLTON K.

Mountain Lion BY CHLOE N.

Mule Deer BY AUDREY S.

Northern Diamondback Rattlesnake BY BEN O.

Ochre Sea Star BY LEXIE R.

Olympia Oyster BY LOGAN D.

Pacific Banana Slug BY AVA K.

Pacific Jumping Mouse BY VISMAY M.

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly BY JULIAN B.

Red Abalone BY DAPHNE F.

Red-winged Blackbird BY JULIAN F.

Rough-skinned Newt BY SOHUM C.

Salt-marsh Harvest Mouse BY ALYSSA J.

San Francisco Garter Snake BY KONRAD J.

Sea Otter BY HELENA G.

Snowy Plover BY CAITLIN H.

Sticky Monkey-flower BY CELINA L.

Thimbleberry BY ARIA C.

Western Blue-eyed Grass BY SIERRA A.

Western Fence Lizard BY DOYOON K.

Western Pygmy-blue Butterfly BY SONALI R.



We invite you to marvel at the species with which we share our world and the transformative connections we make with them.



The topography and coastal climate make the Bay Area a biodiversity hotspot, meaning the ecosystems teem with a rich variety of plants and wildlife but also that they are under threat. Despite widespread commercial development and other human impacts, our region is home to hundreds of native plant species and a dazzling array of invertebrates, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Many species are endemic—found nowhere else in the world—and some have been classified as rare and endangered. It is essential that our students develop a deep appreciation for this biodiversity and understand its importance.

The initial inspiration for Bay Area Wonders came from Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s World Of Wonders, a collection of natural history essays that explore her connections—both real and metaphorical—to different species from around the world. Each essay is devoted to a unique species, and they are all beautifully illustrated by Fumi Nakamura.

Bay Area Wonders is an interdisciplinary collaboration between science, art, and writing, focused on local species. For this project, students selected a subject from a curated list of native plants and animals for their own “wonder essay.” We encouraged them to choose a species with which they felt connected; some students had observed a species firsthand, while others may have related to an aspect of the species’ behavior or physical characteristics.

In science class, students investigated ecology concepts, while in writing class they read and analyzed essays from World of Wonders. In both classes, using Nezhukumatathil’s essays as a model, students researched and wrote their own essays about their selected species—integrating personal experiences, figurative language, and natural history information. In art class, students worked with photographic reference images to create scientific illustrations of their species. They combined contour drawings with detailed shaded drawings to show volume and dimensionality.

In this anthology, Bay Area Wonders: In Praise of Abalone, California Poppies, and Other Astonishments you’ll find all of the fifth-grade illustrated essays. This volume represents a lot of hard work in science, writing, and art classes. We invite you to marvel at the species with which we share our world and the transformative connections we make with them.


Acorn woodpeckers help feed, hatch, and teach their offspring


Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)

Acorn woodpeckers work together as a family to protect their assembly. These animals wake up to the world, helpless and in need of safety. My parents constantly do anything within their grasp in order to give me an education, health, and happiness. They work together to protect me and my baby sister and to make sure we are happy and healthy, keeping us in the protection of their nest for as long as possible.

Acorn woodpeckers work as a family, a well-oiled machine with several jobs, to defend important survival needs such as nutrients. These birds cooperate like good friends for survival. If these creatures were not friends, then how would they work together? But what good would a group of friends be if they do not know what to do? These acorn woodpeckers work with each other and are as synchronized as perfect pieces of the puzzle, on beat in every decision like a drummer. Why must these acorn woodpeckers seek friends and work together? They need to protect their young ones. Imagine a ferocious lion, blocking their children from danger at all costs. Acorn woodpeckers help feed, hatch, and teach their offspring for the life ahead of them.

They fight against other birds, such as steller’s jays, white-breasted nuthatches, and spotted towhees who search for a snack as the acorns stand undefended in the granary trees without them. A granary tree is a storage area typically made in a wilting tree or branch of an oak for these clown-faced birds to store acorns. The acorns shrink throughout the weeks as the water leeches out of them and are transported to another tree or hollow area. These granary trees can have up to fifty thousand acorns.

Acorn woodpeckers do something only nine percent of all birds do. They work together to breed cooperatively. Colonies have one to three breeding females and up to eight breeding males, as well as young birds from previous broods to help incubate eggs. This results in around three to seven eggs. They must use synchronization and teamwork, or else the birds will end up destroying all of the eggs. If successful, these little hatchlings wake up small, blind, and helpless and grow into beautiful acorn woodpeckers.

Every time I see a picture of an acorn woodpecker and stare at its red cap, surprised looking eyes, and the black and white of its every individual feather, I am reminded of many people and objects around me. Its white powdered face and striking color palette reminds me of a silly clown, flying through branches and trees.

Just like these protective birds, my parents guide me towards a safe and happy life. They are amazing and extremely supportive every step of the way. When small acorn woodpeckers are ready to take flight and leave the nest, they do not truly fly away. I know that one day, those little birds will come back to their parents to help repeat the cycle.


Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin)

One day, a few years ago, an adorable hummingbird landed in a tree in our backyard. I am pretty sure it was during COVID-19. Before the hummingbird arrived, the tree looked dull, with its short, skinny body, but now it looked so lively like a supportive arm to lean on. I can imagine what the hummingbird saw when she found our backyard. The flowers were broken and sad, completely out of season, yet the hummingbird decided to stay, even with the dangers of squirrels, rats, and owls.

A few days later, she began building a nest, and we watched her every move. Every day I came running downstairs in the morning, excitement wandering in my head, wondering what she had done. Squealing, I sprinted back to where my brother or mom were doing something and shouted out that our hummingbird was there sleeping or flying around. This hummingbird became close to our hearts, and we picked out the perfect name for her, Holly the Hummingbird. A week later, Holly laid two tiny eggs, one pearly white and and the other baby blue. We named the shells Eggy and Chicky. Unfortunately, my brother, mom and I never had the opportunity to see the newborn birds, for they flew away, but hummingbirds have always been special to me.

Allen’s Hummingbirds are unique in the way that they have a very early migration, like refugees forced out of their country. This is actually very accurate because birds must migrate from their homes because of the weather, whereas refugees move because of danger and war in their country. Most hummingbirds migrate in February, but Allen’s migrate as early as December. They also violently defend a feeder and fight other hummingbirds and larger birds, like a mama bear protecting her baby cubs, instead of peacefully sharing. Many birds communicate with each other when they find a feeder, but Allen’s are vastly different. They decide to hog the food and do not allow anybody else to eat.

These hummingbirds are similar to other birds because they catch insects midair like somebody late for work who is sipping a cup of coffee while rushing out the door. The females have green backs with reddish sides, and males have green backs and orange throats like a fresh mango. I had always been thinking that hummingbirds were unrealistically beautiful with their colorful and shining feathers glistening in the light. They are also California’s pollinators for some endangered species like the Western Lily and Bush Monkeyflower.

Hummingbirds have always been my favorite type of bird, but they are even more special after my experience with Holly. I hope one day I will see more hummingbirds or maybe even another one will come flying to my backyard. Every time I see one, it brings back really cheerful memories of Holly and her cute little baby hummingbirds.


I had always been thinking that hummingbirds were unrealistically beautiful with their colorful and


and help the beaver cut down two hundred trees a year.


American Beaver (Castor canadensis)

“SPLOOSH!!” The American beaver hits the water, its rudder-like tail slicing the cold water. Their thick and oily fur makes for an efficient insulator like a warm blanket, which is good for working at night in the frigid water. These workaholics can swim up to six miles per hour underwater and stay underwater for more than fifteen minutes. The beavers’ most defining asset, their teeth, never stop growing and help the beaver cut down two hundred trees a year. They leave their parents’ dam at age two to find a new dam to call home. Once they leave, they find a mate and are monogamous (which means they stay with one mate for life). Their dams trap water and make homes for other creatures such as deer, bears, birds, moose, foxes, and many others. The largest beaver dam on record is 4,000 feet long, the length of four blue whales!

In a way, the beaver is part of my heritage. I was born in Los Angeles and live in the Bay Area, but my mom is from Canada whose national animal is the beaver. She grew up in the city and did not see many beavers, but the beaver is still an important part of her culture. When my mom was young, she ate these desserts called Beaver Tails, which are basically pieces of fried dough in the shape of a beaver tail covered with cinnamon and sugar. They were very popular in Canada and helped people learn about the importance of the beaver. Although I have never had one of these desserts, beavers are still an important part of my cultural heritage.

Beavers are more than just part of Canada’s cultural tradition. In the mid-twentieth century, zoologists Joseph Grinnell and Donald Tappe had the idea that beavers did not belong in California and that they were “non-native pests.” Then, in 2013, new research was done in a scientific journal called California Fish and Game that challenged Grinnell and Tappe’s work. The ecologists who wrote the article provided multiple pieces of evidence which showed that beavers lived all over San Francisco and the Bay Area. A few years later, to support this claim, beaver fossils were found in Temescal Creek and rock paintings of beavers were found in the Tule River Indian Reservation that dated back 500-700 years. In the end, scientists discovered that beavers had been hunted out of the Bay Area and were not non-native pests after all.

Beavers are very helpful for wildlife preservation. Their dams preserve water and improve water conditions like a humongous filter, so that other animals, like salmon, have a place to live. Although there is a shortage of beavers in the Bay Area and in other parts of California, there is hope. A beaver pup was recently spotted in the San Francisco Bay, which means that they may be making a comeback there, returning to the region that they once called home.


Bat Ray (Myliobatis californica)

What animal is very social, but at the same time will protect its belongings at all costs? What animal can be very aggressive, but will only be so when intimidated? What animal is usually active at night? It is the bat ray.

This animal can larger than the average adult human and has incredible fighting capabilities. They are black on the top and white on the bottom, which acts as an impressive camouflage. They have a poisonous spine that they use to defend themselves. Bat rays are the king of the rays.

A bat ray is like a human being. They have to eat, sleep, and they have to breathe. How do they do all of this when they live underwater, sleep during daytime, and still have to handle their daily lives? I have wondered about this. The solution? Bat rays bury their food under the sand on the seafloor so they can eat later (this is similar to squirrels who bury food except bat rays do not forget where the food is). They move gracefully by flying through the water. Because of that, this method is extremely effective at storing food.

There are other factors to the bay ray’s survival other than food. How do they defend themselves? How do they defend their food? The fact that they can live to be up to two hundred pounds (about ninety kg) makes them very strong, right? No. Weight does not equal strength in animals. Think of how being fat is different from being strong.

How do they defend themselves? They have a poisonous barb in their back. This is a great form of defense, as some species have enough poison to kill humans (only very few species). Do not worry. The good news is that they only sting things that appear to be a threat. In other words, they only use the poisonous barb for defense. Scientists found out that bat rays are defensive creatures.

What other observations have scientists found? I wondered. Scientists have been studying bat rays’ behavior for many years now. But soon I wondered, how do scientists study bat rays? Scientists have found out that bat rays are safe to touch, as long as you are careful. Because scientists found this behavior, some aquariums allow you to touch bat rays.

I feel that I connect with bat rays quite a lot. The main traits include the fact that they can be very social, but also hide their prized possessions like their food. And if it comes to the point where they really need to defend themselves, they can be very aggressive to enemies. On top of that, they still have powerful defenses like how they can camouflage themselves to surprise enemies, and they have a poisonous spine to defend themselves and their food. And they use their traits wisely. Bat rays teach their young how to hunt, mate, and raise a family, to continue the legacy of the great bat rays.


fighting capabilities.


Adorned with exquisite patterns like a checkered cape that shines in the sunlight...


Bay Checkerspot Butterfly (Euphydryas editha bayensis)

The Bay Checkerspot Butterfly, while being an endangered species, surprised humankind many times with their striking resilience and will to survive. The butterfly was endangered for many reasons. Some fell to predation, some died in the coldest of winters, and more died from disease, leaving the butterfly to struggle in small populations spread out across the Bay Area’s reserves.

While hardships have been immense, the butterfly is as resilient as it was stubborn, as it still survives to this day, even though populations are dwindling. I have personally never seen a checkerspot of any type, unless you count a chessboard. The butterfly’s wingspan is a meager five centimeters, which is rather small compared to other butterflies; however, its wings are its defining feature. Adorned with exquisite patterns like a checkered cape that shines in the sunlight, one glance could explain how the butterfly acquired its name. Butterflies play a role in Buddhism, which my family usually does not practice; however, the religion still has a lasting effect on our family. The butterflies represent rebirth after death, and the checkerspot’s wings bring us back to the aforementioned chessboard. While most chess pieces are discarded after being taken by an opponent, if a pawn reaches the other side, any piece can be brought back from the dead, just like a butterfly can represent rebirth. Butterflies with such stature were uncommon in the wild, which made checkerspots special. Of course their wings stood out among most butterflies, but its demeanor and how scientists had accumulated much knowledge about it had made it popular for measurement and other research.

The most famous occurrence of scientists using checkerspots for research was when biologist Paul R. Ehrlich used the checkerspot for his research on endangered animals, which became ironic when eventually the butterfly itself became threatened. In one of Ehrlich’s papers, “Distribution of the Bay Checkerspot Butterfly, Euphydryas Editha Bayensis: Evidence for a Metapopulation Model,” he said that many of the dwindling populations of butterflies were extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. Natural disasters combined with the rough migration to a new area “can lead a species to exhibit the ‘shifting mosaic’ type of population dynamics first described by Levins.”

This “Levins” is Richard Levins, a famous biologist who coined the term “metapopulation.” He had created a formula listed in his paper (I won’t bore you with the details), but it was a ratio of migration to empty feeding grounds. The ratio determined the success of endangered animals, including the bay checkerspot.

The bay checkerspot butterfly went extinct at Jasper Ridge, near Stanford University (in 1998, to be exact), which is a shame because it would be the only place nearby I could have seen them. Even if I may never be able to see a butterfly as exquisite as the checkerspot, I can still imagine it fluttering as if everything is beyond its notice, fixated on a point in the distance, flying to a place it could truly call home.


Bay Ghost Shrimp (Neotrypaea californiensis)

Bay ghost shrimp, or Neotrypaea californiensis, are incredibly extraordinary animals. My only personal encounter I have had was one year ago when I was on a vacation in Hawaii. There was a fish tank that had tiny white/clear creatures about one inch long bobbing around in the water. I asked the woman who was dropping small flakes into the tank what the little creatures were, and she said they were glass shrimp. I did not know what they were until I did this project and found out that a ghost shrimp is also called a glass shrimp.

Bay ghost shrimp are astounding creatures that have amazing traits. For example, they can live without oxygen for up to six days! They can also dig holes up to four feet deep in the sand, even though they are only one to four inches long. Ghost shrimp are slightly transparent because their bodies are mostly made of water, like jellyfish, and since they are already in the water, it works like a camouflage. Scale worms, snapping shrimp, three different species of pea crabs, and two different species of clams infest ghost shrimp’s burrows because they are attracted to leftover food and also want housing. Fishermen use pumps to catch ghost shrimp to use as bait for fish and other sea creatures. A ghost shrimp’s hole looks like a little mound of sand with a hole in the middle. Fishermen put the pump over the hole, suction out the sand, shoot it out into the ocean, and then the shrimp will come out. They paddle and kick their legs when they are sucked out of their hole. Many sea animals kill or eat ghost shrimp, so it is good that females lay twenty to thirty eggs. When a female ghost shrimp is pregnant, you can see all the little green eggs inside of her stomach because the exoskeleton is translucent.

Bay ghost shrimp are always doing something. They are always busy because they spend almost all their time digging and when they are not burrowing, they clean themselves. They do this by folding their bodies backwards in a 90 degree angle; the shrimp also do that sometimes when they are molting. Neotrypaea californiensis are important because they breathe out oxygen into the sand when they dig, which helps organic matter decompose and provides food for other animals. Ghost shrimp are omnivores, so they eat algae, aquatic plants, and larvae. They were invisible to me when I first saw them, but now I know more about them. Ghost shrimp remind me of myself because they dig almost nonstop and I love to dig, create, and build. Neotrypaea californiensis is a very unique creature because of its traits, and I am lucky I was able to do this project on it.


creatures that have amazing traits.


Think about it for a moment, wouldn’t it be nice to see the cute long-eared rabbits living in their natural habitats, in


Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus)

My dad and I were hiking in Huckleberry Park, which is right next to my house. We were enjoying the bright, sunny day as we walked by the spot my sister and I tried to plant a grape tree in the ground. There was not a cloud in sight. Suddenly, my dad pointed to a particularly shady spot on the trail.

“Look at that!” he exclaimed.

“What?” I asked, half expecting to see something big, perhaps a bear. I looked where he pointed his finger, but I only saw some ferns to the right of the trail and to the left of a drop-off.

“Don’t you see it?” he said. I moved closer. “Shh!” I tiptoed to the spot he pointed to, and l jumped back in surprise. A rabbit scurried out of some ferns and rocketed like a bullet in the other direction. Woosh!

“Wow! A rabbit!” Rabbits are my favorite animal. I did not even know this type of hare existed until I was looking for a rabbit to write about. Then I found out how amazing the black-tailed jackrabbit really is.

The black-tailed jackrabbit is a native to the Bay Area and can run as fast as forty-eight miles per hour in short bursts to escape predators. They are in the top twenty fastest land animals in the world, and jackrabbits are the fastest hare in the world. They also have almost 360 degree vision due to their eyes high on their face and their head slightly flat. Furthermore, their fur is gray. They are actually hares, not rabbits. Did you know that hares are different from rabbits because they are born with fur and their eyes open? Jackrabbits have big, oval ears and big, black eyes.

Sadly, a predator of black-tailed jackrabbits is humans. This is because jackrabbits love to eat and can be bad for our crops. Other predators of the black-tailed jackrabbit are hawks, coyotes and badgers. To escape their predators, black-tailed jackrabbits flash the white part of their tails and confuse predators while also alerting any surrounding jackrabbits that predators are nearby. If hiding does not work, jackrabbits will use their speed to outrun predators. Adult black-tailed jackrabbits weigh around three to seven pounds and are about two feet in length, so they are the perfect size to pick up and hug.

When I think of a rabbit, I think of fun. I had a rabbit, but he lives with someone else right now. He was fun to play with. I’m excited for when I can play with him again. He is a white lionhead and has red eyes. Rabbits are funny and very playful. My rabbit loves eating, and he especially likes apples. This is different from the black-tailed jackrabbit, who eat alfalfa, twigs, seeds, leaves, grasses, clovers, beans, and cacti. If I had a black-tailed jackrabbit, I would hang out with it a lot. They not only are super fuzzy, but they also look super fun to play with!


Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

Every year, I go to Stanford Sierra Camp with my family, and we see a variety of animals, including the bobcat. The bobcat is a crepuscular animal, meaning they come out at dawn and dusk. They do not like being seen, and they will run and hide when they spot people. Even if you go looking for a bobcat, it would be very difficult to find one because they are good at hiding and running away.

Bobcats pose little harm to humans, but they might come to your birdbath. Bobcats often are confused with its close cousin, the lynx, but a bobcat has small dark tufts of fur on their cheeks and ears. Bobcats have a wide diet, but are carnivores. Bobcats are one fourth the size of a mountain lion, and in the state of California, there are about 70,000-100,000 bobcats.

When I go to camp, I always hear bobcats screaming outside my cabin because bobcats emit an eerie scream that can be heard for a few miles around. Lynxes live at camp, too, but there are some ways to tell lynx and bobcats apart. Lynxes have longer back legs and larger paws than bobcats, and bobcats have more spots than lynxes.

As I run around, playing capture the flag, the bobcats are hiding, out of sight. When I come home and sit in bed, they come out and roam around, patrolling their territories. No one is around to see them or stop them because it is the middle of the night.

I did not know there were bobcats at Stanford Sierra Camp during my first two years at camp, but this summer I figured out that these amazing critters are as fast as a lightning bolt and glide through the water, like birds gliding through the sky. I am a guest in their home. We all are!

At camp, the number of animals that live there is incredible. Birds, squirrels, bears, bobcats, and much more, I have seen a lot of animals that live there, including bears, but bobcats are the most rare. In fact, I have only seen one once! I know that they live there though because I have heard their screams and my friends have seen them.

The bobcat, or Lynx rufus, is amazing, with a top speed of around thirty four miles per hour, (Usain Bolt’s, the fastest man alive’s record is 27.33 mph), and can slink around unnoticed. They will stalk their prey for two-seven miles before attacking, and deliver it home to their young. Bobcat young are officially called kittens, but an unofficial nickname is bobkitten. The mother bobcat has a litter of one-six bobcats and she stays very protective of her young, but the father bobcat does not stay to help the mother and leaves because bobcats are polygamous, meaning they have multiple mates in their lives.

Bobcats are fascinating and elusive creatures who are very rare to spot.


The bobcat, or Lynx rufus, is amazing, with a top speed of around thirty four miles per hour...


They are fuzzy, little creatures like pom poms that are bunched up in groups.


Brush Rabbit (Sylvilagus bachmani)

As the sun rises over the treetops, I open my tent to a foggy morning in Costanoa. I decide to take a little walk through the trees, and I hope I see some animals out and about in the morning. The smell of autumn leaves ring with every step I take. The trees are dancing with the wind. Then hear a soft rustling. I look down to find a family of brush rabbits as they bounce around the grassy plain. Breathing in the cool and foggy air, I notice a little, gray fur ball dash right in front of my path. I look all around to see where it goes and where the burrow is, but I have no luck. Brush rabbits do not dig burrows, but they make shelters out of branches, and twigs to camouflage themselves from predators.

I know they are brush rabbits because of their barely visible tail and small ears. Brush rabbits are a type of cottontail rabbit, which means they have stubbed tails. Also, rabbits’ ears are a very important part of the body because they help regulate the body temperature. Because the brush rabbit has smaller ears, that indicates they live somewhere cold. Having smaller ears and bodies, they can warm themselves up faster than most other animals. When I look at brush rabbits, they are fuzzy, little creatures like pom poms that are bunched up in groups.

In the center of the group lies a huge brown and gray rabbit. Male brush rabbits grow from 12-14 inches long. Next to it lay hairless bunnies. When brush rabbits are born, they are completely hairless. Hmmm. Those baby Brush Rabbits kind of remind me of pandas! When pandas are born, they have no fur or anything. They are just pink. The breeding season for brush rabbits begins in December and goes until May to June.

As I continue to watch the brush rabbits, they start snacking on berries and plants while others dart into a red fox’s burrow. Geez, I did not know bunnies were vegan, I think to myself, a slight grin spreading across my face. The brush rabbits do not notice that the fox is still in the burrow, but luckily, it is sleeping. The predators of brush rabbits include large cats, bobcats, foxes, raptors, and snakes. Quickly noticing the fox, the rabbits dash out of the burrow and alert their family members who quickly bounce away.

I had a feeling that I would see more of them today, but I did not. It turns out that there is a disease called the hemorrhagic disease, and it affects rabbits the most, making them sick or killing them. Even though the brush rabbits have up to three to four litters a year, and have up to four bunnies per litter, it is sad to say that there are only two thousand of them left in the world.


Bullwhip Kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana)

I was walking down the beach, feeling the waves lapping at my feet. The sun was out, and my brother and I were playing. We had just built a huge fort out of driftwood, sand, and kelp, and now I was looking for sand dollars. Bullwhip kelp dotted the sand, and I felt calm and content. Bullwhip kelp was always at my beach excursions, and it felt reassuring to see it. I always thought of bull kelp as a building tool, but if not that, a tourist hotspot for flies. Little did I know, bull kelp was extremely useful.

Bullwhip kelp obtains its name because it looks (and feels) like a whip. It has a long, skinny stipe (stem) with a bulb on top from which lengthy, narrow blades sprout. Currently, it is used for food, fertilizer, fishing lines, baskets, and is also a potential fuel source. Bull kelp not only can be eaten raw, but it can be used as seasoning or a flavor for a broth. In addition, bull kelp forests are similar to tree forests. They support all walks of life. Bull kelp, along with plankton, make oxygen. Just like most trees, Bull kelp forests die out in the winter.

The bull kelp’s habitat was threatened by the Pacific purple sea urchin and warming climates. An unusual spell of warm water killed swaths of kelp at the same time that an unknown disease called “the wasting disease” wiped out the sunflower sea star, one of the only predators keeping the urchins in check. These factors spelled disaster for bull kelp forests.

Bull kelp is still recovering to date. Bull kelp is not a predator and holds up the food chain, giving life to the snails and sea urchins that it is eaten by, which in turn are eaten by otters and others.

Bull kelp is different from its cousin the giant kelp because giant kelp has blades growing out all along its perimeter, while bull kelp has blades growing out the top on its bulb. Unlike bull kelp, giant kelp has short, textured blades. Yet another difference, giant kelp live in more turbulent waters, giving it a renewed source of nutrients. That allows it to grow up to one foot a day, opposed to bull kelp’s two inches a day. Bull kelp tends to be more common up north in cooler waters, while the giant kelp dominates in the south.

Bull kelp sways in the water, a crowd following the beat of a slow song. It is anchored to the ground, blooming beautifully, but it does not have roots in the way trees have them, since it absorbs its nutrients from the sun and the water around it. Instead, it grips the ground with a noodle-like structure, called a holdfast, which lets it stay rooted to the ground. It is held up by the gas-filled bulb at the top.

Humans are not over-harvesting kelp. In fact, they are trying to protect it! Even though kelp is used in many things, fewer than twenty permits have been issued for harvesting, and fewer than 350 tons of bull kelp are cultivated per year. We are not over harvesting kelp like we are doing with fish. At least, not yet.

When I look at kelp now, I do not dismiss it as an uninteresting lump, and I am not as disgusted by the sheer mass of flies buzzing around it. I just look at it, knowing that even in death, it provides a habitat for life. Bull kelp helps countless species, and that deserves to be remembered.


Squirrels are incredibly smart, extremely creative, and they tend to think outside of the box.


California Ground Squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi)

It was the year 2020, and my family was thrilled to set up our brand-new bird feeder in our backyard. All was going well. Dark-eyed juncos and blue jays occupied the little house and occasionally brought different feathery friends with them. Soon, the backyard was filled with birds sweeping across the sky and the singsong tune of song thrushes- until the arrival of the squirrel. This mischievous little rodent grew a liking for bird seeds and was not hesitant to climb up the window to find a fulfilling feast. Because of this, I began to despise these vermin. Their tiny fists would pound on the roof, forcing my family to emerge from their sleep; however, research allowed me to develop another perspective of squirrels.

The California ground squirrel, or Otospermophilus beecheyi, can grow up to 17.9 inches long (including their tail). Ground squirrels are known for their burrows, as they can dig up to six feet or more in depth. Even though they share burrows with around twenty other ground squirrels, these rodents are not known to be social as they prefer to keep to themselves. Though ground squirrels are pests and are quite an annoyance to some households, they do carry some benefits. For instance, they help to control the insect population and seed dispersal. Other animals also occupy their empty burrows, which gives these squirrels shelter. Their brown and gray mottled fur can also be useful, as their coat can easily blend in with the environment, providing protection from predators and showcasing another level of camouflage.

Along with this, the California ground squirrels have a plethora of ways to avoid becoming lunch for a hungry, fierce animal. For example, these creatures tend to throw sand or pebbles at their predator. They also use their wits to outsmart the predator. Using their long, bushy tails, these squirrels can rise up above their pursuers to create the illusion of being considerably larger than they are in reality. Another strategy of defense is to heat up their tail and swing it like a baseball bat as protection. This is beneficial because this action shunts warmed blood into their bodies. California ground squirrels are prey for coyotes, foxes, bobcats, badgers, hawks, and snakes.

Another essential factor of overcoming their predators is possessing surprising intelligence. Luckily, the California ground squirrel has just this! Squirrels are incredibly smart, extremely creative, and they tend to think outside of the box. Many encounters with squirrels lead to startling ways of baring quick-witted moves. For instance, many squirrels have a substantial memory, as they are able to remember where they buried nuts that they acquired or even a human’s face.

The California ground squirrels are incredible animals with so many intriguing aspects and a various skillset!


California Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys californicus)

Have you heard of the species, the California kangaroo rat? The kangaroo rat is part of the heteromyid family. It is a rodent with incredibly powerful back legs that they use for jumping and drumming to communicate. I like how the rat is small and scurries when they have a predator chasing them. Now, I am not small, but sometimes I feel that way. I want to scurry away when I find myself in poor situations just like a kangaroo rat. I want to be as tiny as a kangaroo rat so that I am hard to find and no one knows that I am gone.

Do you know that the kangaroo rat is more closely related to chipmunks and gophers than to kangaroos and rats? Kangaroo rats have huge hind feet and long tails. That is one of the reasons why I love them! They can be found in open grasslands and coastal sage scrub habitats. Their grassland is just like the cozy corner of my house. For me, my cozy corner is that one spot which I just cannot survive without. The kangaroo rat probably feels the same way about its grassland.

These rats are endemic to Western North America and are found in Northern California as South as the San Francisco Bay. You can find their burrows in loose soils, often at the bases of shrubs or edges of rocks. The kangaroo rat thrives in hostile climates. On my first day of school in Nueva, I wanted to hurry away. It was super, duper, incredibly, horrifyingly scary! Everything about the school made me nervous back then. Sure everything was awesome, but I thought, “This school is fancier than I am!”

The kangaroo rat has keen hearing to detect danger, but it does not make many vocalizations. Instead, the kangaroo rat communicates through scent marks and foot drumming. It can hit its hind feet on the ground to create complex rhythms.

Kangaroo rats do not need to drink water because it is obtained from their food; this is an adaptation to life in a dry climate. They have many predators– owls, snakes, coyotes, birds, and bobcats.

Kangaroo rats eat berries and seeds, and when they poop, it helps cultivate and disperse plants. Sometimes they forget about stores of collected seeds, so the seeds begin to grow. This is almost exactly what I do. I write a lot of tiny notes and create all of these little reminders, and eighty percent of the time, I forget about them. The kangaroo rat digs underground to enlarge burrows, which stirs underground soil.

The California kangaroo rat is nocturnally active, and it is solitary and aggressively territorial. No one knows how long they live in the wild, but they have survived in captivity for over nine years.

The kangaroo rat and I are a lot more similar than people think.


and scurries when they have a predator chasing them.


The California least bird, with smooth, straight flight and


California Least Tern (Sterna antillarum browni)

Every weekend, I go to the beach. I drive two hours from my house to a small town surrounded by water and cliffs. I stay at a beach house in Stinson Beach. I kayak in Boleanis Lagoon, swim in the water, and spend hours in the ocean. Some mornings, I can see hundreds of birds flying elegantly in flocks, like clouds, and feasting on the fish and insects in the lagoon. Stinson Beach is a famous birdwatching spot with many types of birds including pelicans, egrets, great blue herons, and sandpipers, but the California least tern is by far the most breathtaking.

The California least terns are small birds that can persevere through anything. Despite being 21-24 centimeters long (shorter than a foot), they migrate to Central and South America, going as far down as Brazil where they spend the winter and fall. The California least tern is an elegant bird, with smooth, straight flight and long wings. They migrate north to San Diego and San Francisco in the summer and spring. Their main habitat includes sandy and rocky beaches and sometimes gravel rooftops of buildings; however, their nests on the shores of lagoons and oceans easily blend into the sand, causing many animals to harm them accidentally. They are endangered, with their biggest predators being humans. Other predators include dogs, cats, crows, skunks, foxes, and raccoons.

Sterna antillarum, the least tern, is the smallest of the tern family, hence the name “least” tern. Its wingspan is almost twice the size of their body, giving them graceful and elegant flight. This allows them to hover over the water, then dive down to catch small fish and insects. The California least tern’s large wings allow them to also glide extremely effectively. Some other tern species are able to sleep while gliding over the ocean. When flying, their wingbeats become so fast they are almost uncountable when they reach their fastest speed. This enables the tern to fly long distances, sometimes without resting for eleven days.

These small birds are actually related to seagulls, but they look very different, having a smaller white body, larger black and gray wings, a black head, and a unique forked tail which allows them to be more aerodynamic. Sadly, the California least tern is endangered, suffering from habitat destruction and littered beaches. Many organizations, with the biggest being the Audubon Society, have saved many least terns in the Bay Area by building “Tern Island,” a two acre island in San Francisco and removing trash from beaches and closing them to the public.

In the future, we will be able to save this beautiful bird and it will return to the Bay Area. Even though it is a small bird, it is a great addition to the dying beaches, which will be saved by the California least tern.


California Lilac (Ceanothus spp.)

The California lilac is also known as the “soap plant” since it foams when you crush the petals in your hand. It is also great for erosion control because it grows like a net over the terrain, preventing it from crumbling apart. This plant has fifty to sixty other variations in its genus. Other variations are mountain lilacs, wild lilacs, buck brush, and sometimes blue blossoms.

The California lilac is very determined and hardy, like me. I am not put down easily, just like this lilac. It is difficult to find a time and place where it will not grow. I always push through a challenge, and so does this plant. The California lilac and I both work hard and keep trying until we do it right. I remember one time I tried to draw my cat. It was very difficult. I kept messing up and having to erase and try again, but every single time, I pushed through until I was satisfied. I think that this plant had to go through many similar things like being relocated or wilting. By going through all of this, the California lilac has evolved to grow in most environments. An example is that this plant grows everywhere in California.

The colors of the California lilac range from deep indigo to pastel blue. Its leaves can be multiple shades of green, though they are usually your average leaf green that you would find on any tree. Its height ranges from two to twenty feet tall. The lilac’s stem is white and green, depending on its thickness. It is an evergreen, not deciduous. Evergreen plants keep their leaves from summer through winter, while deciduous plants shed their leaves in fall and winter. Their petals can also be purple or white. You can keep it indoors or outdoors. Pollinators find it very attractive, especially hummingbirds and butterflies.

It is drought and saline/coastal (meaning water that contains salt) tolerant, which makes me think of a seedling sprouting through the cracks in the pavement, tenacious and resilient. The lilac blooms from midspring to winter, reminding me of a courageous plant, standing tall and strong despite the changing climate. It loves full sun, proudly reaching towards the sky (though it can grow in part-shade). It grows in a wide range of conditions, and I like to think of it as bold, because it grows wherever it likes.

All of this shows that the California lilac is a very persistent plant. I have always been very persistent, just like this flower.. I imagine this plant as the same, never giving up or backing down from a challenge. In the future, I predict that it will continue to thrive, being the hardy plant that it is. I hope that you are able to see this plant at some point in your life. If you do, then I hope you remember everything you now know about the California lilac, and that you can pass this information on to other people, and enlighten them of our native plants, not just the California lilac. I know that after researching this plant so much, I am definitely going to be looking for it wherever I go in California, and you can look for it, too! It is found all over California. Odds are, if you go to a local plant nursery, they will tell you where and when to find it- if they do not sell the California lilac themselves!


I predict that it will continue to thrive, being the hardy plant that it is.


The California pitcher plant is a very patient plant, like a cobra waiting to strike.


California Pitcher Plant (Darlingtonia californica)

In the vast marshes and bogs of Northern California and Western Oregon, you will find a very peculiar carnivorous plant. It has a spring green cap, like a fat mushroom, a matching crisp green-red stalk, and maroon leaves in the shape of fangs. This marvel of a plant is the California pitcher plant.

The California pitcher plant, or cobra lily, requires its roots to be cold, hence the need for a stream or body of water to be nearby. I also enjoy being cold in the snowy mountains, where I ski for the good part of a year. I am on a competitive ski team, and being cold makes me feel refreshed and relaxed. Californica darlingtonia lives in dense groups that could exceed one thousand plants! Just like the California pitcher plant, I always enjoy company. The more, the merrier!

The California pitcher plant is a very patient plant, like a cobra waiting to strike. The insect enters the plant, attracted by nectar and sugar produced by glands. Eventually, the bug wanders too far into the cap and is confused about the whereabouts of the exit, which is cleverly hidden at the bottom and hooded by the cap. Due to false translucent windows, otherwise known as fenestrations, on the top of the cap, the insect becomes even more perplexed and draws away from the real, genuine exit. Bugs and insects are naturally attracted to light, and keep colliding with the fenestrations. They appear as hope, an escape at the end of a dark, scary tunnel. Due to the slippery, wax-like surface, the helpless bug only has a few more seconds before sliding down the ominous tube. There, downward facing hairs prevent the bug from crawling up and out of the plant. Then, exhausted and confused, the insect drowns in a deadly pool of liquid at the bottom of the stalk. The pool contains symbiotic bacteria which digest the insects since the California pitcher plant is incapable of producing digestive enzymes. The plant can regulate the amount of water in the puddle by pumping it up from the roots. The hard parts of insects, like the carapace, cannot be digested and stay in the plant.

Californica darlingtonia can grow in nutrient-low or serpentine soils due to its carnivorous nature, but it is not serpentine-dependent. It easily grows well over serpentine sites. Due to its adaptive nature, it is classified as ‘least concern’ on the list of endangered species. The maroon, fragrant flowers droop down to protect the pollen from the rain, and are covered by slender, lime green leaves. These extravagant flowers are mysterious because no one knows for sure who pollinates them. Scientists have interesting theories about the pollination done by beetles or spiders, and this is why these flowers are called nature’s mysterious rubies.

The cobra lily is a very intriguing and mysterious carnivorous plant since its pollination methods are unknown and it cannot produce digestive enzymes. I would love to visit a site and marvel at these wonders.


California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

I have always been interested in flowers. How their petals grow in Fibonacci numbers, how the leaves grow strategically to get the most sun with the minimum overlap, how they know which way “up” is using the fluids in their bodies, all give me more reason to like them. But most importantly, their color always cheers me up on a day where the sky is crying. The bright orange petals, my favorite color, pull happiness out of the darkest depths. The poppies even appeal to the public within seconds of sight, making it the state flower of California (as in California Government Code Section 421: The golden poppy, Eschscholzia californica, is the official State Flower. April 6 of each year is hereby designated California Poppy Day).

The flower can also spread rumors. It is widely believed that it is illegal to pick California Poppies in their namesake state. While this is not true, it is illegal to pick or damage flowers that are not within your property, as in California Penal Code 384a(2): A person shall not willfully or negligently cut, destroy, mutilate, or remove plant material that is growing upon public land or upon land that is not his or hers without a written permit from the owner of the land, signed by the owner of the land or the owner’s authorized agent, as provided in subdivision (c).

The poppy has many interesting features. It is very observant of the weather. When the weather is overcast and during the night, the flowers close, but when it is nice and sunny out, the beautiful petals open to the world. Additionally, the flower is said to contain sedative and stress-relieving properties, making it a sign of meditative calmness.

This flower was chosen to represent California because it represented the “fields of gold” sought during the Gold Rush. Though the original name was the golden poppy, California was added in the new common name, the California poppy.

The poppy is a twelve-inch tall flower that grows in the Pacific slope of North America from Western Oregon to Baja California. Its petals have a span of about four inches, and can get up to three inches in width. It takes around sixty to ninety days for it to bloom after being planted. The poppies can be used in salads, as they are edible after thorough cleaning. They belong to the same family as opium poppies, Papaveraceae, which are illegal to plant in the United States; however, they do not actually contain opium. That characteristic is left to the opium poppies.

I have grown, just like the poppies do. I am no longer scared of them, they are now my favorite living thing.


...their color always cheers me up on a day where the sky is crying.

When flipped over, California red-legged frogs reveal an astonishing red or salmon colored underside.


California Red-legged Frog (Rana draytonii)

The hot and humid heat rained down as I squared up my approach into the long jump pit. It was the finals and the last meet of the year, so it came down to this. I took a long running start… and then jumped. I landed a solid nine feet, eight inches. I could have done better. I knew that, so I was determined to make the most out of my second try. The better of the two distances would become my official result. I remembered how a frog’s legs spring forward with such speed and purpose. That could not be too hard to do, I told myself. With the next jump I landed at eleven feet, six inches, easily in first place by half a foot and a new personal best. Animals still have several things to teach us.

The California red-legged frog used to primarily live through California’s Central Valley from Point Reyes all the way to Baja. Now, they most commonly inhabit from Sonoma and Butte counties in the north to Riverside County in the south. They commonly live near streams or stock ponds. California red-legged frogs are amazing creatures, able to transmit mating calls through water and even under ice.

Although I have never personally run into one of these frogs, when I was five, I enjoyed spending my evenings down by the pond, listening to the croaking of the frogs. I often tried to catch them with a net I had made out of pipe cleaners, though I never ended up succeeding.

When flipped over, California red-legged frogs reveal an astonishing red or salmon colored underside. The California red-legged frogs are not always a reddish color, as they are all born brown and yellow. The California red-legged frog is, on average, two to five inches in length, about the same size as a Post-It note. If a predator, such as a bullfrog comes along, the California red-legged frog stays still and then, when the threat approaches, it makes a long and evasive leap to safety, just like a pigeon taking flight in a bustling city.

The California red-legged frog has a very sticky tongue in order to catch flies and other airborne insects for food. The California red-legged frog also commonly dines on a meal of California mice and Pacific tree frogs, as well as pretty much anything it can catch and fit in its mouth. These resilient frogs even hibernate during the winter, and they do not wake up until spring. To hibernate, the California red-legged frog burrows into cavities below the frost line, the line where the ground is expected to freeze annually, to protect them from the frigid winter above.

As of 2016, the California red-legged frogs were put on the endangered animal list, officially marking them as an endangered species.

The Northern red-legged frog and the California red-legged frog were originally classified as subspecies of the red-legged frog known scientifically as Rana aurora, though a genetic study held in 2004 proved that claim wrong. Though California red-legged frogs have vocal cords, their close relative, Rana aurora, does not. That is pretty much all you need to know to get a pretty good understanding of the California red-legged frog. What kind of animals inspire you in your life?


California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus)

California sea lions are beautiful, sleek creatures. At least, that is what I think when they leap out of the water and spin in the air like a ballerina. It has always been a really beautiful sight to see. I remember one time a sea lion swam up to me and started to follow the boat I was sailing. As others and I sailed, the California sea lion followed different boats, swimming behind them and even sometimes leaping out of the water. It was so fun to watch them as they did their ballerina twirls perfectly.

California sea lions use a technique called sailing. This technique is used to warm up or cool down. They do this by resting with only their nose and tail out of the water. Sea lions are quite nimble while walking on land. They have no claws on their front flippers, but they have nails on their back flippers that they use for grooming.

California sea lions have external ears, unlike other types of seals. They have always reminded me of deer ears, as if they are always listening to you and are very observant of the world around them. They are fast and agile swimmers. The sea lion can spend several days at a time at sea, diving almost continuously. Just like someone who is determined to achieve a goal, sea lions just keep trying, just like how I push through things even if they are hard. Pups will memorize their mothers’ calls so they can easily find one another. It always reminds me of how you can tell who someone is just by hearing their voice.

After the breeding season is done, female sea lions will stay in southern waters while males and juveniles will usually migrate north to feeding sites in the winter. This reminds me of emperor penguins, as the males will stay in one place to keep the eggs safe while the females penguins go off in search of food. Sea lions are a torpedo in the water and like to swim, just like me.

California sea lions are a natural beauty that this world has created, and I am always amazed when I see California sea lions playing and leaping around. I hope to see them playing ballerina more when I go out sailing. I hope that they will stay at Half Moon Bay and keep their populations up, so that I can continue to see them as I sail and when I visit Half Moon Bay.


I am always amazed when I see California sea lions playing and leaping around.


When they lose a limb, they can regrow it, although it takes two to three years.


California Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus)

“Have fun at school, kids,” my mother reminded my sister and me as we ambled out of the sleek gray Range Rover into the schoolyard. Every day, my mom dropped me and my younger sister off at the Nueva Elementary School, and every day I could not wait for recess. I opened the door to the fourth grade classroom and went in to meet my other fourth grade pals. We would talk about video games and the best ways to hunt rabbits and squirrels until the teachers called us for Morning Meeting. I scrambled to obtain the best seat on the rug, along with a pillow. A half an hour later, they let us go to our first class of the day, and for me, that was always math. When I finished the in-class assignment and met the requirements, I waited for recess, my favorite part of the day. During recess, I went to the forts with some friends, and we flipped over logs and rocks to find cute, little salamanders! Little did I know that these were California slender salamanders, also known as Batrachoseps attenuatus.

These little guys are maroon in color and their tails take up two-thirds of their entire body length. Even though they do not look the part, they have some very good defense tactics to escape from predators. For example, they coil up and stay still, blending in with the ground and avoiding detection. When they lose a limb, they can regrow them, although it takes two to three years. California slender salamanders do not breathe using lungs. They inhale through their skin and the tissue lining their mouth. One of my favorite facts about them, though, is that they are cannibals. They eat other salamanders that are smaller than themselves. Speaking of food, a normal diet for a California slender salamander normally consists of bugs, like springtails, small beetles, snails, mites, spiders, and insects, in addition to earthworms, termites, and isopods.

To catch food, they sit on the ground and wait for the food to come. Then BAM! They snatch prey with a projectile-like tongue that shoots out of its mouth and grabs the oblivious animal. Mostly, they eat by themselves. But on some occasions, other creatures or animals are around them. It really reminds you that most actions take place with other people around. When other people are present, you cannot do things as if no one else is there. You are mindful of them, and you can take them into account. For California slender salamanders, that means that they are at the bottom of the food chain; when other animals are around them, the salamanders cannot hunt for food.

“Hey Beckeeto, can we kill it?” One of my friends asked me.

“No, it’s a living creature like you, so let it live.”


California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense)

Two years ago, I used to be really quiet and I was always sad about something. I sulked in the corner of classes, and when at home, I would always be in my room. I had really nice friends. We would sometimes fall apart and have small fights, but that was just a part of being friends. We were inseparable, but sometimes I felt like I was not really being myself. I faked a smile or forced a laugh because other people were doing it, and sometimes I would just avoid people altogether. It was like I could not really be honest with anyone, not even myself. I did not acknowledge this at the time, for it was just a part of who I was.

Every day, I imagined that I could hide away like a shadow, too far for anyone or anything to talk to or see me, like a California tiger salamander that spends the first year of its ten to fifteen year life span in a pond, only coming up from the deepest part of their pond to eat. These interesting creatures do not only hunt small tadpoles, but also salamander larvae, making them cannibals. They also can grow up to 9.5 inches long, making them the second largest salamander in California (the largest being the California giant salamander). As I grew to realize that I was not being myself, I also realized that I could, should, and would change that. I became more like my true self. My smiles became more genuine and my laughs were not faked. As I realized that I needed to change, I had already begun to do so on my own. It was an entirely new way of living and interacting, and I felt so much more alive. It was like I had just been awoken from a very long sleep. I wish I had woken up earlier. It was like breathing air for the first time after being born and raised with gills, just like the tiger salamander. After almost a year living in a pond and teaching themselves how to hunt and survive on their own, they finally come out to live a long and fully nocturnal life on the surface. A life full of hunting much bigger insects while still learning how to walk and breathe fresh air is one of the biggest challenges in their life. Just as I had learned how to be myself and like anything else, it took some time to become used to the new changes, and sometimes I still feel like I want to curl up into a ball and disappear.

I do not feel as confined as I was before. I feel more open like my brain just opened a new door. I have more friends and I almost never have to fake a smile or laugh. I am a completely new person. It does not mean I am never sad. It is that I do not hide it. I feel like a salamander that has just come out of the water and emerged to what I was always meant to be.


...they finally come out to live a long and fully nocturnal life on the surface.


Voles are social and build burrows that are up to forty five centimeters deep!


California Vole (Microtus californicus)

I remember reading the book Warriors about cats. The cats hunted mice, doves, ravens, squirrels, and many more rodents and birds. There was always this animal that caught my attention: voles. I had never understood what they were until my tutor wanted me to write a nonfiction paragraph.

She asked me, “Do you have any animals in mind?”

I thought about it for a while. “I have been reading this book, Warriors. There is this vole in it, and I have always wondered what it was,” I said. It was decided. I would do a nonfiction paragraph about voles.

Have you ever heard of voles? They looked like mice, but their closest relatives are actually gophers and hamsters. Full grown male voles weigh from 41 to 81 grams, their head to body length is 152 to 196 millimeters, and their tails are 42 to 58 millimeters. Meanwhile, full grown females usually weigh 36 to 63 grams, their body length 149 to 182 millimeters, and their tail 38 to 53 millimeters.

California voles mostly live in Oregon or in Baja California. Voles are herbivores. That also means they must go to farms and gardens for food, becoming pests to farmers. Voles prefer wild oats, ryegrass, or brome grass. They have caused widespread damage to fields of artichokes and alfalfa. It is not their fault, voles are just trying to survive like everyone else.

Voles can breed almost year-round, which is surprising since they can only live less than a year in the wild. This means female voles have offspring almost all their lives. Most breeding happens during the middle of the wet season (March to April). Males can mate with more than one female, and each litter can have up to ten young, though they usually only have four to five. Even so, the California vole population is growing steadily. When I see a picture of a vole, their eyes sparkle and persuade me, I am cute! I have a furry body and small, fluffy ears!

Sometimes I imagine myself as a vole. I think, We are not too similar or too unsimilar. Unlike me, voles are most active near dawn and dusk, with only a few bursts of activity in between, while I am least active near dawn and dusk. Though like me, they are active through the whole year, and they do not bother to store food. Storing their food would not help because even if other animals do not steal their food, their flowers and plants would rot underground. Voles are social and build burrows that are up to forty five centimeters deep! Voles have many predators such as snakes, cats, and all kinds of birds. Surprisingly, voles can swim extremely well considering they do not take swimming classes. Voles have short, prickly fur that reminds me of a broom.

I hope in the future that voles can be known as cute and cuddly instead of farm pests. We could help voles by planting more of their food for them so they do not eat crops. Placing a trap only kills one vole, but placing a scent that voles, in general, dislike will stop all voles from coming. So maybe we could help them and ourselves by letting them live, yet bringing them away from the farms and crops.


Coast Dudleya (Dudleya caespitosa)

Three layers of clothes were not enough protection. The cold, harsh San Francisco winds sent shivers down my spine, but the view was worth it. At the top of the cliff, you can see the succulents, gleaming the dawn of the Bay Area. The coast dudleya are an array of colors: red, yellow, and green. With swirling patterns and the vibrant rosettes, the succulents were a sight to behold. As my parents were taking photos to keep as memories, I looked down at the dudleya and wondered how they grew on those rocky ledges directly above the sea. They were surviving while hanging just over the edge of the cliff. How could they grow, survive, and thrive in those conditions? Were they still alive? I needed to know how and why.

Apparently, the dudleya’s habitat is actually a rocky cliff side which explains why they are growing there. The coast dudleya has a strong root system, enabling the plant to grow tall and making it well-suited to direct ground planting. It’s transplanted by inserting the seeds into the garden soil directly. In fact, this is the only step to plant a coast dudleya. It is very sturdy after planting and can resist harsh winds and the animals that might try to eat it. The coast dudleya reminds me of a salmon traveling upstream, as they are so persistent. When I was on a website (Moosa Creek Nursery), I found out that dudleya are pollinated by hummingbirds, but they do not rely on the animals to do the pollination. In fact, half of it’s pollination is done by the plant itself. How do plants do such things? Then I figured out that other fruits and vegetables self pollinate, as well. Apples, oranges, strawberries and other everyday produce also self pollinate themselves. The coast dudleya lives fifty to one-hundred years. This means that they can live as long or longer than humans! Throughout their lifetime they can grow to be 3.6 - 8.4 inches tall and four to six inches wide. Every year, they grow 0.048 - 0.112 inches tall and 0.0533 - 0.08 inches wide. That is pretty slow for a plant that can live up to one hundred years. When I was at the Marine Science Institute two summers ago, we learned about sea animals not just in the bay area, but all over the world. I found out that there are other species that can live just as long like the bowhead whale, sea urchin, and horseshoe crab. The coast dudleya has some shades of yellow and red on its pedals. This is caused by the coast dudleya experiencing cool winds, exposure to sunlight, and even stress. As I am on our porch, I am gazing at the succulents on our table that look just like the coast dudleya, red, yellow, and shades of green. Just like the dudleya on the coast of San Francisco, those succulents on the table will still be alive for another fifty complete years.


With swirling patterns and the vibrant rosettes, the succulents were a sight to behold.


Only 5 percent of redwoods remain alive from old growth forests.

Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)

I have a tree in my backyard, but it is not an olive tree, a birch tree, or an oak tree. It is a redwood tree, the tallest tree in the world. When I walk outside, I look up and see the immense amount of leaves and the huge trunk with its many branches. The coast redwood has an aura of power that no other tree has. When I look at it, I feel as small as an ant, and I think that everybody must also feel this way in the presence of a redwood.

True to their name, the coast redwood can only grow near the coast because of the way it gains water. Most trees suck water up from the ground, but the coast redwood can find water a different way. It has axial leaves which absorb water that is in the air. These leaves can account for 40 percent of the water redwoods use, and they only appear high up in the tree. This means it relies on moist air, which is more common near the coast. As a result, the trees near the coast are more successful, and the redwoods that are further away from the coast die off.

Standing as tall as the sky, the redwoods can grow up to 380 feet tall, though most are 220 feet. They do not grow quickly. They can grow for 2,200 years because they have armor-like bark, growing up to one foot thick, which protects them from fires. But this is not the only thing that the bark protects. Tannins, which are what make acorns bitter, protect the trees from insects, as the tannins are poisonous. The tannins also prevent the redwood from rotting.

The redwood seeds are tiny, and up to 250 of the seeds can fit into one cone; however, this is not the only way they can reproduce. In fact, this system is less efficient than when a redwood is cut down. A new redwood will spring from the stump and can use the original root system to grow quickly.

None of this protects the redwoods from people. Redwood wood has a resistance to rot, fire, and insects; they do not warp or scratch. This makes them an incredibly popular choice for building, whether it’s for houses, skyscrapers, or just everyday objects like a baseball bat. The wood’s popularity means that redwood forests are being chopped down. Only 5 percent of redwoods remain alive from old growth forests.

The future of redwood trees is in danger, and terribly, they might go extinct by 2050; however, many people are working to help redwoods. There are funds to replant and protect them, such as the Sempervirens Fund, and many people are donating money.

Even though redwoods are endangered, not many people know that they are. Some people are helping, though, by raising awareness about things like the Sempervirens Fund and how to not harm redwoods.

Redwoods are fantastic trees with their incredible height and age. They have strange features, and new features are being discovered about them every day. They inspire wonder and can calm people. Redwood trees are amazing, and the one in my backyard is no exception.


Coyote (Canis latrans)

Coyotes or bush wolves live in most of the United States. They adapt to their habitat very quickly. Coyotes might be a little scary if you see one for the first time because they look menacing, but all you have to do is stay in your place and do not run. Coyotes will start chasing you if you run. The next thing you do is try to make yourself look bigger and louder by waving your hands. They feel fear when they think you are dangerous and will most likely run away. However, they are not always like this. Just like dogs, coyotes can be curious and energetic.

Coyotes have grayish-brown fur, a bushy tail, and white fur on their stomach and underparts. They have yellow eyes, triangle ears, a long snout, and a black nose. They are nocturnal.

And if you want to tell coyotes, dogs, and wolves apart, notice that their tails go in different directions while they are running. For example, coyotes run with their tails down, wolves run with their tails straight, and dogs run with their tails up.

Coyotes are also considered monogamous and their pairs usually stay together for several years. They breed from January to early March with a gestation period of sixty-three to sixty-five days. After that, five to seven pups are born! Coyotes usually live for ten to twelve years after they are born, and the adults are twenty-five to forty pounds on average. They are usually the size of the German shepherd. Their most common death is by disease or humans. Before the year 2000, people put bounties on coyotes, so people could freely kill them for money. Believe it or not, some bears and mountain lions could hunt them and eat them if they wanted, too!

“Grr!” my step brother would say.

We were in my room playing, pretending we were wild animals. We were either hunting or just having fun with slow-mo fight scenes. That is one of my favorite memories with him. I also liked it because I felt like coyotes were similar to me. Sometimes coyotes like traveling alone, but occasionally they join in with other loose pairs. Coyotes are known to hunt well with other species! They also do not really form a pack and stick to it. They form family groups. I feel like I am similar to coyotes in that way, but coyotes can also be very territorial, unlike me. Coyotes also mark their territory with scat which neither dogs nor I do! Another thing coyotes share in common with dogs is that they will eat almost anything! They usually stick to small mammals, but they also eat birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and some plants. Coyotes often find a way to enter into farms and kill the livestock or eat their food. They try to avoid livestock when humans are around. Coyotes have a similar hunting style to wolves, they start by spotting prey, slowly moving, then sprinting and pouncing. When coyotes hunt for food for their pups, or whelps, both parents go out and hunt, and interestingly, coyote mothers let the father bring them food, but she does not let him go inside the den. I have to say this kind of reminds me of a fallen-apart relationship.

There I was, an eight-year-old daydreaming in my room about how it would feel to be a coyote. I liked these moments when I could sit in my room alone and think, just disconnecting from the world, enjoying the silence like a young coyote exploring its imagination and its own world.


Coyotes have a similar hunting style to wolves, they start by spotting prey, slowly moving, then sprinting and pouncing.


The name iris means rainbow in

Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana)

I recall a time when my mom took my brother and I to see fireworks. As we were sitting in the back of the car, I remember seeing the different colored fireworks light up the sky and my mom holding me close. The brilliance of sparks flying through the air always reminds me of petals from flowers that dance in the wind before the petals drifted back down to the ground. When I see a Douglas iris, I remember this day.

The Douglas iris is extraordinary in many ways. For example, the name, Douglas iris, comes from the Scottish botanist David Douglas (1799-1834), who “discovered” the iris in the early 1830s in Monterey, even though Native Americans used it long before as a form of medicine and food. The irises are dotted along the coast of Northern and Central California, but they are sometimes also inland. The name iris means rainbow in Greek, referring to the wide variety of colors of the iris family. The native species of iris in the Bay Area are mostly shades of lavender or purple, though the colors of the subspecies include shades of white, pale cream, yellow, and rose blended together. The flower’s shape will vary depending on where it’s grown and its genes, with some flowers shaped like bulbs with clusters of leaves. There is a small number of iris species native to the Bay Area, including the western blue flag and central coast iris, both of which look similar to the Douglas iris. Even though the Douglas irises look pretty, every species in their family are considered poisonous, and if consumed, are toxic. Sometimes, the Douglas iris is known as the mountain iris, an evergreen iris that grows at lower elevations. The iris also grows on the coast, which helped spark the name Pacific coast iris.

The iris frequently blooms between February and May and grows in open woods, grassy slopes, fields, and open places on a wide range of soil types. The budding flowers start blooming in the spring, but they will keep their petals and leaves all year round. The plant usually has between one to nine flowers per stem, and if the stem is blanched, it can have even more flowers. The flowers themselves are usually at a height of eighteen inches to thirty-six inches tall, though the flowers themselves are only around ten centimeters in diameter. Because of the climate here in the Bay Area, the Douglas iris has been able to adapt to drought conditions and even mild flooding. This tolerance is increased if it is grown along the coast. Along with that, the iris is also adaptable to other things like human impacts!

When I look at the iris, I think about all of the Indigenous people who made use of it, and about other plants that are native to the Bay Area. I think about how resilient the plant is, and how it can survive.

The feeling of togetherness and family is brought back whenever I think about the Douglas iris.


Dungeness Crab (Metacarcinus magister)

Seeing people walking off the pier with buckets filled with vibrant brown, orange, and yellow crabs meant it was a good day and we would eat crab for dinner. As we pulled up at the pier with our crab nets and rods, we found the perfect spot and loaded the nets with stinky, smelly, and slimy squid. After, we threw them over the pier’s walls. I had the rod behind me, and I launched it like a catapult. The little cage of squid attached to the rod launched so far that it disappeared into the morning fog. Carefully, I placed my rod next to my chair and waited.

Ten minutes felt like ten years, but after waiting, I pulled up the crab trap hoping to see at least two crabs, and to my surprise, I saw three. I dumped the crabs into a bucket and used a metal crab ruler with gloves to measure them. They all had to be at least 5.75 inches to take them home; the first was seven inches wide. The second one was only five inches wide. I sighed and threw the small crab back into the water. The third was one 7.25 inches wide. Two out of the three crabs came home with us.

“Hopefully we can catch more!” my mom said.

I then pulled my rod up again. Reeling the rod up, I hoped that I had at least one crab on the rod, but I was disappointed to see that a seal had bit the cage off with the food. I attached another trap filled with squid as bait. I launched it one more time with more strength, and once again, it disappeared into the morning fog. Ten minutes later, I pulled up the net, and I did not find crabs or the bait. I started packing the trap up when I remembered that the rod was still in the water. I rushed to pick it up, and to my surprise, two enormous crabs were in the trap. I was extremely happy and quickly measured them to see that they were both big enough to be able to bring home. Later, I wrapped all of our stuff up and headed out.

On the way out, we were stopped by a pier monitor to confirm that each of us did not have more than ten crabs, and we showed him the crabs. When we went home, I dumped all of the crabs into the bathtub in order to cook them. We had to scrub them down to ensure they were clean. After that, we stuck them in a pot full of boiling water. Once they were boiled, I made a quick butter garlic sauce by melting a stick of butter, a quarter cup of minced garlic, salt, and pepper.

My mom separated the legs so the crabs would be easier to crack during dinner; I removed the shell and guts because we did not want to be eating what it had eaten, even though a crab’s diet is mostly clams, snails, and fish eggs. We all sat down and enjoyed the freshly caught crab with garlic butter sauce.

During dinner, I told my family, “A fun fact is there are two scientific names for the Dungeness crab. The current name is Metacarcinus magister and the former name is Cancer magister.”

“Hopefully we can catch more!“

Sometimes the rat will come out of the nest to dust-bathe, its gray fur like rocks towering over a waterfall.


Dusky-footed Woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes)

I walked down into the forts as I looked for piles of sticks around a third of my height. My eyes darted from tree to tree until I found what I was looking for. Slowly, I approached it, hoping the woodrat inside would not come out and bite me. CRUUUNCH!!! I felt the leaves split under my shoe. My heart nearly skipped a beat. I asked my teacher to take a picture at this nest, and as soon as I heard the camera’s click, I quickly walked back up to the classroom. Phew! I didn’t wake the rat up from his daylight slumber!

The dusky-footed woodrat is a unique creature. Although it is small, with a mostly nocturnal attitude, it can build nests in dusky-woodrat neighborhoods so big they could touch the sky. It has quarters and chambers; one for food, one for sleeping, etc. The rat’s diet consists of leaves, acorns, fungi, and even poison oak. Throughout the years of a woodrat’s life, they learn to scavenge for food, and even keep an eye out for predators. Some rats have multiple nests so that when they scavenge for food, they do not have to travel far to go back home to their nests. Dusky-footed woodrat nests are not just a big, hollow hole. The sleeping quarters are not only for a woodrat’s rest. Females use the sleeping quarters to nurse young and give birth, which makes them very important. A dusky-footed woodrat tends to produce two or three litters of rats a year! Unfortunately, once gestation (when the baby is developing inside the womb) starts, the female rats tend to attack the male, biting him like a ferocious tiger.

Many animals are woodrat predators. These include coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and owls. Woodrats also tend to dig trails in the dirt to other woodrat homes from their nests above the ground (the nests in which are passed down from generations of other rats), and they run along those trails to other nests when they are chased by a predator.

Sometimes the rat will come out of the nest to dust-bathe, its gray fur like rocks towering over a waterfall. They spread out their arms and limbs and push their bellies onto dry dirt. Scientists say that this is relaxing to the rat and is a common practice of the dusky-footed woodrat. At night, the rat tends to stick to cold spots, and not only do rats have a tendency to stick to the cold, they tend to avoid light as well and are extremely sensitive to it. They pull their ears back when angered, fighting, or annoyed, and they tend to behave like snakes when they are intimidated.

Woodrats are remarkable creatures, roaming the earth and scurrying for food to survive. Their interesting behavior allows them to do many different things other animals cannot, and I hope I can see more of the nests built by these critters near me.


Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata)

Ever since I was little, I have loved going to Golden Gate Park. For my whole life, it has been my favorite place to go with playgrounds, an equestrian center, ponds, museums of art and science, a ferris wheel, a conservatory of flowers, and so much more. Whenever I go there, I love sitting by a pond and watching the flame skimmers zip from a perch nearby to sneak up on an unsuspecting moth or midge, their prime prey. Suddenly, the bug is gone, attacked in midair by this amazing predator. In the winter, all of the dragonflies are gone, having migrated south from Canada and the United States to the Gulf of Mexico so that they can stay warm for the winter.

Flame skimmers start as an egg laid in a body of still water like marshes, ponds, or swamps. Then, they hatch into a nymph about twenty-eight millimeters long. To eat, they hide in the mud or sediment under the body of water where they live. If they see prey, they use their extendable jaws to snap up a small fish or tadpole. After five years, they come out of the water, climb onto a reed, and shed their skin, showing wings underneath. A few hours pass and the dragonfly flies off. No one is the wiser that it has just undergone a partial metamorphosis.

Males are territorial, protecting territory, females, and favorite perches that change every day. They may fight one of their own species or they can engage in aerial combat with a different kind of dragonfly. Males are likely to patrol during the day, as flame skimmers are less active during the later hours. They compete for territory, prey, and females like thoughts fighting for attention and space in your mind.

Predator and prey, the dragonfly is an important part of the food chain. It eats moths, mosquitos, flies, midges, butterflies, and bees. It is prey for bats, frogs, fish, newts, spiders, birds, and lizards. Flame skimmers are listed as “least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red list. This means there is a low chance that they will become extinct because their population is stable.

Flame skimmers are lightning when they zip through the air to attack a moth or midge in midair with their long, slender legs. With accuracy like an arrow, they can kill prey before the midge or moth even knew the dragonfly was coming. Their name comes from their coloring. They are red and orange, with a bit of blue and purple– they are fire.

Now, when I see a flame skimmer at the park, I remember how they are so alike to us. As nymphs, they absorb hydrogen from the water they live in and hydrogen stays with them for the rest of their lives, just like the knowledge we learn from our childhood stays with us humans for the rest of our lives. Who is the water for you? Who gives you the knowledge that you need to live?


They compete for territory, prey, and females like thoughts fighting for attention and space in your mind.


Sea anemones are nicknamed the 'flowers of the sea' because of their colorful appearance...


Giant Green Sea Anemone (Anthopleura xanthogrammica)

When I used to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I would always go to the marine animal section where I was able to touch starfish, sea urchins, and more. I would almost always go to the section where the anemones were, and I would stand there watching them with my sister until my mom told us to move on. I used to tell my sister my observations, such as how the anemones would sway like the wind and look as if they were waving to each other with their tentacles.

Giant green sea anemones can live for more than a hundred years in the ocean, and have been on Earth for over five hundred million years. One interesting fact is that they can make identical clones of their DNA, which technically makes them immortal. They are able to stay alive because if their tentacles are damaged or cut off, they can grow back again. Also, as long as they are not poisoned or eaten, they will continue living. Scientists think that their longevity lies in their telomeres, which are the structures made from DNA sequences and proteins found at the ends of chromosomes. I wonder if scientists can apply sea anemone longevity to humans? Then we could live forever. I wonder if this only works on invertebrates, like sea anemones, or both invertebrates and vertebrates?

Giant green sea anemones’ tentacles can grow up to ten inches long, and their body can grow up to be about seven to twelve inches in length. They are a wide columnar shape, almost like an oval. Anemones are also close relatives to coral and jellyfish. Their diet consists of mussels, crabs, small fish, and sea urchins. In order to defend themselves and catch prey, they have microscopic stingers on their tentacles, which can be triggered by the slightest touch, firing a filament called a nematocyst into their prey. Once injected with the paralyzing neurotoxin, the sea anemones guide their prey into their mouth with their tentacles. Stinging cells deter many predators, but some animals can still make a meal of an anemone. Many species of fish, sea stars, snails, and even sea turtles have been known to opportunistically feed on anemones.

Sea anemones are nicknamed the ‘flowers of the sea ’ because of their colorful appearance and that they got their name from a terrestrial plant. There are about one thousand different species of sea anemones throughout the world’s oceans at various depths.

I used to see giant green sea anemones as just an extravagant looking creature that swayed in the water, but now I see them as immortal creatures that, even if you hurt them, will just grow back, just like how humans fall down and stand back up again.


Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera)

I have a love-hate relationship with kelp. Initially, I despised the flavor and the smell, but then in the summer of 2023, my brother, Ben, altered my perspective. We were all sitting down for dinner when he announced he had big news. “I just landed an internship at the kelp chip company, 12 Tides!” All I was thinking was, Why would my brother want to work for a snack company? But then he shared the significant global impact of kelp. He explained how kelp sucks up carbon dioxide and that, by planting it, we can significantly reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Then, because kelp can grow quickly even when 12 Tides cuts it, it grows back! 12 Tides creates kelp chips that are eco-friendly and yummy!

Kelp suddenly became interesting, and I was glad Ben had something he was excited to spend the summer doing. When I saw we were doing a Bay Area Wonders project, I immediately chose giant kelp and was fascinated to learn more about it.

Kelp is one of the biggest ways we can reduce our carbon footprint. Carbon dioxide is the worst greenhouse gas and it is a big factor in global warming, but kelp can help diminish the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. An acre of kelp takes in twenty times more carbon dioxide than an acre of trees. In some ways, kelp is a sponge, sucking up carbon dioxide like a sponge absorbs water. Although trees still take in some carbon dioxide, it is not a long-term solution. Trees release carbon dioxide back into the air when they die, so they are not a good solution to reducing our carbon footprint. Kelp, on the other hand, is a permanent solution. The carbon dioxide that kelp takes in will never reach the atmosphere for millions of years, even when some of it dies. As I dove deep into kelp, I realized that there was much more that giant kelp does for Earth besides taking in carbon dioxide. Giant kelp is the fastest-growing algae in the world. Giant kelp can grow up to two feet per day and grow up to 175 feet tall. For reference, that is taller than the Statue of Liberty! Kelp provides a ginormous ecosystem to lots of creatures. Kelp grows together in packs, resulting in huge cities that provide protection, shelter, and food for many animals.

Giant kelp is made of four unique parts. Firstly, there are tall stripes. The stripes’ main job are to support the other components of the kelp. Secondly, at the end of the stripes, the holdfasts function as an anchor and secure the kelp to a rock like gum sticks to your hair. Thirdly, the blades connect to the side of the stripe; the blades are the photosynthetic factories of the kelp. Finally, the floats are circular structures attached to the blades’ ends. The floats, along with the blades, facilitate photosynthesis, allowing the plant to grow and take in carbon dioxide. It is worth noting that giant kelp thrives in cold water, yet it must also be planted shallow enough to be able to reach sunlight for photosynthesis.

Although I still hate the taste of kelp, I am filled with immense gratitude for the contributions that kelp adds to this planet. Its remarkable abilities are huge and if planted enough, it can help reduce carbon emissions and create more biodiversity around the world. After learning all this, I am 100 percent no longer questioning my brother’s reasoning for choosing 12 Tides. If companies like 12 Tides can plant more kelp, we might be able to be carbon neutral by 2050.


I have a love-hate relationship with kelp.


Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

“Wanna chip?” my sister asked me with a bag of Limon Lays chips in her hand.

“No thanks,” I said back. I never liked the lemon flavor. I was walking down Seal Rocks Trail with my family. My mom was taking a bunch of pictures like any mom, while my dad was telling my sister about Travis Kelce (thanks to Taylor Swift, my sister was obsessed with Travis Kelce).

I could hear the crunching of the leaves underneath my feet as I walked further down the path. Birds were chirping all around me. I had to duck as a tiny hummingbird nearly crashed into my face.

“Come here quickly!” my mom said. I walked over and she was pointing to a speck on her phone camera. “I think it’s a nest!”

“That’s cool,” I responded. “Let’s go try to move closer.” We walked for a little while in between the dancing trees until we came to a fork in the path. I could still see the tree that the nest was on. We took the path that led us closer to the nest, and eventually, we were at the base of the tree. It was relatively big for an oak tree. I took a few steps back, trying to find the nest with my binoculars. Eventually, I found it on a long, wide branch.

Inside the nest was a mother golden eagle’s, sharp, dragon-like talons gripping onto the side of the nest. It had just come back from a successful hunt for the juvenile with its beak sticking up in the air. The mother was carrying some kind of rodent. It was probably a mouse or marmot.

The father eagle then swooped down back into the nest, as well. As the captain of the nest, the mother shooed the father away and the father took off again. I could see the prominent white patches under the wings of the eagle as it flew away as if it had a suntan.

“Woah,” my sister mouthed.

“That’s cool,” I said. My mom was busy clicking away on her phone trying to take as many pictures of the bird as possible. When we went to Costa Rica two months ago, we saw some of the most rare and beautiful birds on the planet and my mom was completely obsessed with them. I could see why she wanted these pictures.

As the mother eagle glanced down at us with her laser-sharp eagle eyes, I could see that she knew that we were not there to harm them. As the mother flew away, the white feathers on the base of her tail glinted in the sun, making me look away for a second. It turned its head towards a big field of grass. Then she dove down so low that the grass grazed her golden neck. As the mother disappeared from view, I thought about how amazing these creatures were.


Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer)

My face pressed up against the glass of every exhibit, and I could not refrain from sticking my nose right into them. As I crept closer to the terrarium, my mind was blown! I came across one creature that looked like a giant, scaly worm. Its scales grinned at me. The creature was cute and insanely cool. At three years old, I had met my fair share of worms and knew what they looked like, so I decided to ask my mom what this creature was. The answer I received was “a snake.” The first thought I had was Why would you name something like that a snake? But then my first thought was ignored and my second thought was That is an extremely interesting animal.

Two years later, I went to a natural history museum in Wisconsin with my grandparents, and there were two snakes there: a hognose snake and a gopher snake. It was the gopher snake that I found more interesting because of its unique function of burrowing using its nose as a drill. Now, I had the perfect opportunity to study gopher snakes and learn more about them.

A gopher snake’s behavior is quite extraordinary. Gopher snakes prefer to be under logs and rocks that have burrows under them for escaping, like a well-built castle such as Buckingham Palace. I visited Buckingham when I was three, and my pants almost fell down because they made me take my belt off.

Gopher snakes bite ferociously when threatened by a predator, like when the carabiner snaps shut after it has been held open for too long and your finger becomes tired. With its vicious chomping and amazing hideouts, the gopher snake is an extremely unique animal.

The gopher snake’s body can quickly adapt to cold or warm temperatures. Gopher snakes are extremely good at staying cool in warm temperatures and warm in cold temperatures. The way they do this is by being cold-blooded, which means that if they want to heat up, they can go out into the sun and warm up and vice versa like a cold winter mountain when the sun comes out it melts all the snow. Gopher snakes are so much better at adapting to new climates in the same skin. Snowsuits or mushy snow are not necessary.

As amazing as gopher snakes are, most people hate snakes. They do not understand snakes, which ends up making people fearful. There is the true threat from venomous snakes, but their characteristics are slightly different. Because of that fear, people treat snakes badly or even kill them. In the future, I hope that the gopher snakes’ unique abilities will no longer cause people to kill them or any other species of snake and instead, like I do, be amazed by them and love them every time I see them.


I found the gopher snake more interesting because of its unique function of burrowing using its nose as a drill.

The great horned owl’s wings are built for speed and silence to

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

Great horned owls are one of the animals that would do anything for their babies. A hoo h’hoo is not uncommon to hear in a suburban backyard. My backyard houses some of the great horned owls. One late night, my dad opened the window screen and gestured out into the backyard. He said, Go. Say “hi.”

I poked my head out, and said, Hoo hoo.

A soft, hoo h’hoo was my reply. I smiled at my dad. The owls were hunting for their babies.

With incredible nighttime vision, hearing that allows them to eavesdrop on others for ten miles, and a sense of smell that allows them to be immune to the scent of skunks, there is no doubt that we want this surprising and amazing species to continue.

The great horned owls’ wings are built for speed and silence to help the hunt. Hollow bones make them light, and their feathers are shaped like a comb. This helps to break up unbalanced air. Gliding silently through the air, great horned owls are like a lone wolf tracking a deer. Their talons help the great horned owls catch their prey. Paired with their senses, their talons almost always strike their target like an arrow that hits a bullseye. Surprisingly, the incredibly strong knives on the owl’s feet are only made of keratin, the same material as a human’s nails.

Their hunting style is not the only interesting part of the great horned owl. Their appearance is also something special. The great horned owl is a larger owl with colors that help it to perfectly blend into a tree. But even animals break stereotypes. Contrary to the rumors, great horned owls only swivel their heads 170 degrees instead of 360 degrees. Even though it is a bit disappointing, we should still be amazed by their abilities. Their ability to suddenly turn their head is like when my mom gives me the Do not touch the video games look, reminding me that my mother knows everything. However, the most important things about the looks of this owl are their ears. Correction. Their ear tufts. The beautiful ears are actually just feathers sticking out. Extra camouflage? Sense helpers? No one knows what they do to help the owls.

Just because they are fierce predators and have a tree-like appearance, that does not mean they are horrible parents. The baby owls they take care of are called owlets. The parents protect the owlets by giving the mother guard duty while the father fetches dinner. You might think this is because the father is larger and stronger than the mother. That is not the case. A female great horned owl in California weighs from 1.8 to 2.8 pounds, but a male ranges from 1.5 to 2.8 pounds. The way a mother owl protects her young makes her stronger. She is like a mama bear when a hunter comes too close to her cubs. The father uses his natural knowledge to hunt for food that will feed the whole family as if he had stalked his prey from the day he could fly.

When I hear a great horned owl call their partner, I remember when I talked to them. When I was an owl. When I was a great horned owl. When I could fly around for a few seconds and the world was mine. Sometimes I hear a hoo h’hoo and I tell them, hoo hoo hoo. Sometimes I receive a reply, sometimes I do not. But I know I am not an owl. I am the owl. I am the great horned owl.


Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias)

As I walked away from my last flag football game, I was not the most energetic. One and a half months of football really made me tired.

I walked into my house, took a quick shower, laid on my bed, and fell asleep. As my eyelids closed, I saw a faint silhouette of a shark, almost as if was watching me.

In my dream, I was on the coast of San Francisco Bay, and I jumped into the water. I saw a tail, sneaking off into an underwater cave. I swam into the cave, when I saw eyes come right past me. I moved back, as a twenty feet long shark headed out with a big SWOOSH. I saw its gray top and white belly, and I knew it was the most famous shark in the world.

When the movie Jaws came out, people feared the great white shark more than they ever had before. They named great whites in their head, Bringers of Death, even though they are mostly harmless to humans.

Great whites are a beautiful animal who are designed to be sleek, fast hunters by birth. This is not their fault; they were just made to be this menacing beast. Even though they are referred to as “apex predators,” the only times when they are relentless hunters are when eating underwater animals. When they bite humans, it is almost always by accident.

Unfortunately for humans, a slight nibble from a great white is usually fatal, and thus, humans end up hunting these all great whites to near extinction. Here’s the thing about great whites: when they accidentally kill 1/8,000,000,000 of our population, we kill 1/10,000 of their population.

Only a few great whites roam around San Francisco Bay, but chances are there might not be as many as we think. A great white travels hundreds of miles in its lifetime, so what is the chance that it is the same exact shark that returns to a specific place?

A great white can grow up to twenty-one feet long as an adult and can swim up to thirty-five miles per hour. This is another reason why great whites are feared, as they can come at you from out of nowhere.

I wish I could see a great white in a habitat where they are not hunted and their population is thriving. People think that the great white is the most feared creature in the world, but it is actually the human species. We are the ones that animals fear the most, and they have a right to be afraid. Great whites, with their twenty-one feet body, weigh 2,200 kilograms and can live up to seventy years.

I think that a great white is like an airplane, as it is fast and big and has fins. This is why great whites are compared to airplanes. It just goes to show that we have species that have great traits, but each time, we endanger them by killing each and every one. Great whites give birth to litters of new great whites from two to seventeen pups each time. A great white’s diet consists of sea mammals like sea lions, seals, and small dolphins.

No marine mammal other than an orca can come close to defeating the species. In conclusion, I hope that the great white will have more of a population to look at and admire in a couple of years.


I saw its gray top and white belly, and I knew it was the most famous shark in the world.


They make friends by being each other' s hunting partners, which they do for half the day.


Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina)

Harbor seals are incredibly social. Now, you might be thinking, Yeah, what else is new? But seriously, they are. And, surprise, so am I. They make friends by being each other’s hunting partners, which they do for half the day. I make friends by sharing snacks and jokes. These seals, hungry as lions, love helping each other. Instead of Cheetos®, these seals’ day-to-day diet is composed of fish, crustaceans, shellfish, and cephalopods. School has many students so hungry they could eat a horse.

Puget Sound, located just off the coast of northwestern Washington, is an inlet of the Pacific ocean. This is a haul-out spot, the scientific term for a seal city. In fact, the harbor seal is the most common marine mammal there. My grandma used to live there, and she was the principal at a school. She could see the Sound from her kitchen window. She went sailing a lot, so she saw many seals.

In California, these seals live around Point Reyes and San Francisco. One of the best places to see seals is at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. You can see them close to the shore almost any time of the year. Their main threats are entanglements in fishing gear and vessel collisions. They can be caught up in nets, have traps stuck to their heads and flippers, or a boat can also severely injure and even kill them. Pollution is the other big problem. Mining companies dump all their waste into the rivers and oceans, and then seals inhale the waste into their lungs, and it causes harm to their blubber, a layer of fat that acts like a wetsuit. Surprisingly, harbor seals also share a common ancestor with bears and dogs.

There are five different subspecies of harbor seal, and they are Eastern Pacific harbor seal, Western Pacific harbor seal, Eastern Atlantic harbor seal, Western Atlantic harbor seal, and the seal lake harbor seal. Did you know they can dive down to one thousand six hundred feet under the water and hold their breath for up to thirty five minutes? My jaw dropped to the floor when I heard that.

Humans and harbor seals are both alike. That is why they are so amazing.


Leopard Shark (Triakis semifasciata)

One spring break, my family decided to go to Monterey. I loved the ocean and wanted to play by the water and see the aquarium where otters and seagulls thrived in the water. As I ran quickly into the beckoning exhibits of the aquarium, I saw it. Graceful. Sleek. Amazing. The leopard shark.

My curious brain thought, This is a shark. I thought sharks were dangerous and fierce. They’re quite the opposite, peaceful and adaptive. Although it was named for its beautiful black spots and dots, the leopard shark never injured a human. They were so much more unique than the average great white. A leopard shark can grow up to seven feet long, and they love the safety and ecosystem that kelp forests have to offer. These kelp forests are perfect for the leopard sharks’ food: crabs, worms, and fish eggs. The leopard shark slowly moves up the food chain as it ages, eating octopi and sometimes even smaller sharks.

However, the way they eat is on another level. The leopard shark’s mouth is on the bottom of its body, and it burrows through the sand or hovers above the ocean floor to siphon up its next meal. Picture a vacuum cleaner inhaling the dirt, dust, and debris, but the shark’s mouth doing the same with dungeness crabs, innkeeper worms, and small squid.

As I explored the exhibits, I found deep sea animals, jellyfish, huge octopi, and most importantly, the leopard shark. The leopard shark is found in many aquariums, since it is easy to take care of, yet stunning. It can live up to thirty years and even gives birth to live young, like humans.

I observed the many creatures inside as I went to the petting zoo next to the birds. Anemones, their tentacles flopping around like giant inflatable balloons and bat rays, swimming around and around the pool, their fins flapping up and down. Finally, swimming alongside the rays came a small leopard shark. Most people have no idea that some sharks can be pet. Like dogs, one should always make sure it is safe to do so, just in case. Leopard sharks are harmless, so petting them is fine, and some of them even enjoy it.

Two years later, I visited the Bay Aquarium in San Francisco. Unlike the ones in Monterey, the sharks featured are in a giant glass tunnel. However, they acted just as calm in an entirely different habitat with entirely different creatures. I saw the one in the kelp forest with giant groupers, tiny gray fish, and bursts of colored coral. It looked like an artist went inside the tank and painted a masterpiece. The leopard shark tank at the Bay had sturgeons, starfish, and snappers, but was dim and looked like the ocean floor. The leopard sharks did not mind. Once I came back home, I realized that I was like the leopard shark. I moved from Washington D.C., the rambunctious capital of the United States, all the way to California, which was much calmer, and adapted. Anybody can be like a leopard shark, adapting and flexibly changing to suit its environment.


I thought sharks were dangerous and fierce. They’re quite the opposite, peaceful and adaptive.


Do not be tricked by this weasel's cute face and tiny body.


Long-tailed Weasel

(Mustela frenata)

It is a calm morning near the Pacific Coast, and a long-tailed weasel is waiting patiently behind a bush, knowing that a mouse or rat is hiding in a nearby hole. He senses that the prey will scamper out, expecting nobody to be outside. When the weasel finally captures a glimpse of fur, he is ready. Dashing after the rat, the weasel is led to a whole rodent family. He makes his attack, noticing that a few of the rats are larger than he is, but this does not stop him. He squeezes his sleek body through the fence, tackling all of the rats, and picking the most appetizing one for breakfast. He runs toward his rotting log home, but his long, five-inch tail catches the attention of a familiar predator. A coyote tears through the grass at full speed towards the weasel, starting a big fight. Bearing his claws, the weasel swipes at the coyote. Do not be tricked by this weasel’s cute face and tiny body.

Anxiety and stress are things that I have dealt with for a long time, and I deal with them almost every day. Figuring out what to do is similar to when a weasel attacks their prey or their predator. The weasel is my anxiety, and the anxiety attack will make me feel multiple emotions: frustration, annoyance, and sadness. I feel like giving up. A “weasel attack” might happen when I am stressed about an activity or piece of work that I can’t avoid. The weasel (my anxiety) ruins everything, and I feel disappointed, really upset, and I do not know what to do. I waste useful time just sitting there when I could be productive by working on projects.

A weasel can be sneaky and can unexpectedly attack voles, mice, rats, gophers, squirrels, and chickens. They need to eat a quarter of their body weight each day! I know that homework will always be there, and I know I am going to have to do it. How a weasel attacks its prey is similar to how my anxiety surprises me.

I used to think that weasels and their other family members (stoats, ermines, and ferrets) were just cute, little, fluffy, creatures similar to the stuffy versions that my sister has. The long-tailed weasels’ bodies are ten inches long and their tail can be five inches long! They are not threatened or endangered, but it is extremely rare to see them. Some researchers are designing camera traps so they can track weasels because weasels do not like interacting with humans and they do not stay in populated areas. Climate change has caused the weasel population to decrease, and many people do not know that they exist.

Some predators of the long-tailed weasel are coyotes, owls, snakes, bobcats, foxes, or threats like fur-trappers. A predator will attack a weasel, but the weasel will attack back. For my anxiety, the “weasels’” predators are the people who help me survive the attack. But if the weasel tries to attack back, I feel like it is trying to attack my growth mindset, my positivity, my self-confidence, my happiness, and my ability to have fun. You might have a long-tailed weasel in you, too, but if you try, you can control it.


Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

I heard my mom call for me and my brother.

“We are going to be late!” she said.

“Coming!” we shouted.

My brother and I hopped in the car. I still hate doctor’s appointments.

“So what are we even going to do there?” my brother and I asked.

“You are going to get your flu shot.” I could not tell whose sigh was louder, mine or his. I looked out the window and saw a butterfly. A monarch.

“Mom! Look! It is a butterfly!” I exclaimed.

“Wow! They really are beautiful.”

When we arrived there, we waited until our names were called to go in. My brother waited outside while my mom and I walked in. A lady led us to the room. The second I walked in the door, I knew I was in the right place. Butterflies of every color surrounding me, the walls looked alive. I closed my eyes and let the butterflies fly away. I heard the doctor come in. He took me out of my daydream.

“Hello, Skyler! So I know you have just met me, but I would love to get to know you better. If you could be anything when you grow up, what would you be?”

I did not even need a second to think.“I would be a butterfly!” I said as I looked at my mom. She smiled.

“Well, that is a very good answer!” I knew it was. But I also knew it was time for my shot. He walked across the room and grabbed the syringe.

“Countdown or no countdown?” he said as I reached for my mom’s hand.

“No countdown,” I whispered. I took a deep breath in, and let it out. I imagined butterflies flying me away from everything. I landed in a field of milkweed with butterflies all around me drinking nectar. Their threeinch wings like little paper airplanes, their orange glow, the fire that warms my house, the drizzle of rain. It was time for the butterflies to migrate. I watched them fly off alone. I remembered they migrated alone! I jumped up and walked around. I felt the rain drops on my face. They silently crawled down my skin. I held out my hand and a butterfly landed. The warmth on my finger tips ran through my body. I looked around at butterflies of every color flying in the sky. I saw the most beautiful butterfly of the bunch. I went over, and it was then that I realized that the butterfly was newly an adult because it did not know it was time to migrate. I needed to help it. I raised it up to the sky and let it fly away. Then I started to go up with it, and as soon as I had come, I was gone. I opened my eyes and I was sitting exactly where I was before.

“Well, the shot is done!”

“Wow… I did not feel anything!”

“You did very well.”

“Thank you!” I said as I walked out the door. I was not scared of shots anymore.

...their orange glow, the fire that warms my house...

Monkeyface Prickleback (Cebidichthys violaceus)

I hop into the car after a long day of school, stressed about upcoming exams and homework assignments. All I want to do is sleep in a peaceful cavern, free of all distractions around me. Every day is the same with challenges that I have to overcome to keep my spot in life. I wish that school would stop for a while so I could refresh my mind. The only thing that completely cools my mind is a dream of a wonderful trip to the ocean. In my dreams, I swim through the ocean, diving into a reef to see an intricate eel swimming in front of me. As I swim closer, I noticed fascinating traits about the fish, helping me recognize it as the monkeyface prickleback.

I see the monkeyface prickleback struggling to find food for its babies who will one day grow up to build their own families. I notice an array of colors reflecting off of the animal’s skin; a rainbow blasting into the sky. A feathery back protrudes from the spine of the eel, while the rest of its body is composed of a hard lump of some unknown, gooey substance. Thinking back to my knowledge of the ocean, I recall that the monkeyface prickleback does not have the characteristics of a true eel. I wonder how the animal pushes through its challenges and has as much endurance as a car charged to its maximum capacity. The animal puts in so much effort to find food for its family: zooplankton for the babies and algae for the adults.

For this species, moving fifteen feet away from its home is a big challenge to overcome. At the end of the day, it probably feels relieved to return home to its rocky tidepool or kelp bed in the intertidal zone. The flexibility of the breed both mentally and physically allows it to deal with its daily obstacles. The constant fear of being eaten by a bird also creates obstacles in the monkeyface prickleback’s daily life. The threat of extinction lingers over the species’ existence. As the creature makes its way to the surface of the water, I remember that the monkeyface prickleback can stay out of water for up to thirty-five hours.

I think about what I have learned from this animal as I return from the sea’s surface. The strength that the animal is capable of withstanding is as strong as a wave, and it shocks me. The monkeyface prickleback can push through obstacles and keep flowing on its path to its destination, no matter the difficulty of the challenge.

I wake up disoriented by the scenery around me. I forget about my daily life and the stress that caused me mental pain. As I readjust to the morning light, I expect for the joy of my dream to fade away and the stress of my life to return; however, as I go through my day, I do not go back to my normal state of stress. I feel a wave washing through me, clearing out the negative thoughts inside. In the center of my soul, I hear the remembrance of my dream buzzing inside me, calling out to me from a standpoint of peace.

I have learned something from my dream that has changed my life forever. The knowledge of the monkeyface prickleback has become a part of me and has permanently affected my thought process throughout life. The strength of the monkeyface prickleback has transformed me into something stronger, ready for any obstacles that may come my way.


Mountain Lion (Puma concolor)

I drove into the intimidating carpool line of my new school, nervous and excited at the same time. A welcoming person, dressed in a cougar mascot suit waved me over and pointed me to my new classroom. That cougar started my first day of second grade off right. When I arrived at class, I decided to read a book about mountain lions. I read about their strong and powerful legs and their 20/20 vision. I was especially interested to learn they can jump up to thirty feet horizontally. That made me think about them more, and THAT led me to a new cat phase. Large cats had always intrigued me since a young age. I hadn’t really thought about what made them be as well known as they are or what they do to stay alive. I began learning about their habitats, from the rocky cliff sides to the greendyed redwood forests of California. The mountain lion’s long tail gives it an amazing sense of balance. He prowls along the mountainous ridges of the Sierra Nevada cliffs, his ears pricked up for the sound of prey around him. He listens like that one nosy neighbor who always interrupts your conversations. He yowls in a house-cat-like manner, because his larynx does not have the same muscles that an African lion would have. As his sensitive paws pick up the vibrations of a possible target, he stops his trot and gazes around his territory to find his unsuspecting meal. He spots his meal, a young white-tailed deer. He corners it and then jumps over twenty feet to kill it with a lethal strike to the spinal cord. With the deer in his mouth, he caches it under some dry leaves and dirt, and then settles in the branches of a modest oak tree.

The mountain lion has been one of the staple predators on the West Coast for a while, but in the past ten to fifteen years, their habitat has been burned and cut down, or they have been harmed with chemicals and garbage. We went from fifty thousand cougars in the Bay Area to two thousand. The main threat against mountain lions is habitat destruction, and because of logging, deforestation, and fires, mountain lions and their prey have been driven out of their habitat and into hiking areas, suburbs, and even highways and busy areas. This isn’t just dangerous for the puma, but also for dogs and young children, which is why we need to take control of this matter. I was scrolling through Instagram with my mom, and I saw this adorable, yet horrifying, video of a mountain lion in someone’s backyard. The person who posted the video has a dog who was pawing at the cougar through a thin glass door. Over time, I felt sorry for that puma. It was most likely starving since his prey wasn’t nearby anymore. In the video, you could see its rib cage through its thin layer of fur, and the video was posted during winter of 2022. The lion’s supposedly “strong legs” were shaking, and it looked horrified. After seeing this “harmless” reel, I wanted to learn more about the cougar’s habitat loss and destruction. Now at Nueva, I look through YouTube for donation sites to mountain lion sightings which is how I found an article titled: “In 2023, only 789 sightings were recorded, compared to nearly 2,000 in 1990.” The mountain lion is solitary, which means that they typically live alone unless they have cubs. The rapid decrease in sightings could be due to habitat loss or to mountain lions hiding from the world and from humans. The cougar is smart, beautiful, and strong, which is why it survives in the modern world.


I love to stare out of windows at school and watch as they gracefully walk by.


Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)

A few years ago, I went on a trip to Yellowstone. It was right before COVID-19 hit, and it was the perfect time to visit, as it was the middle of summer. We knew it would be a long drive, but it would have been impossible to bring our bikes on the plane, so we were stuck in the car for sixteen hours. Even though we split the drive into two parts, staying at a hotel in the middle, those hours in the car might have been the longest days of my life. After all, I was only six, going into first grade, and found it hard to do nothing but stare out the window and listen to the rest of my family talk; however, all the time we spent driving was worth it in the end. Only a few miles away from our destination, we stopped for a rest break. There, in an open field, I saw a herd of mule deer crowded around two bucks, their antlers in a locked position, sparring.

Mule deer are fascinating animals that are known for their long ears that resemble those of a mule. This earns them their species name, Odocoileus hemionus, with Hemionus meaning “half mule.” These fascinating animals are herbivores with a four-chambered stomach similar to cattle, elk, and other ruminants. They digest food by regurgitating partially digested plants, re-chewing, and resting to allow for bacterial breakdown of plant material. The typical mule deer is about 31 to 42 inches tall at the shoulders and 3.9 to 6.9 feet long from nose to tail. They can weigh anywhere from 125 to 300 pounds, and their fur is like the color of a milk chocolate fondue that sparkles in the sun. The breeding season (rut) generally occurs in November or December. This is when bucks spar, competing for does. Most of the time, older bucks with large antlers compete with younger bucks, who have smaller antlers, for mates. After being bred, female mule deer begin a seven-month gestation period, and fawns drop in late spring and summer. Females give birth to one or two fawns, each weighing around five to six pounds.

I have seen many mule deer since I visited Yellowstone. Not only are they all over the Bay Area, but they are in many other places, too. I love to stare out of windows at school and watch as they gracefully walk by. Mule deer are very social and are always with a group of others. It makes me wonder how they live in this world of predators without the guarantee of water and food. Still, they continue life and survive the many challenges that they are put through.

Mule deer flee with high jumps, landing and leaping on all four legs. I learned that even though this slows them down, it makes it easier for them to leave predators behind. Often, I see them bouncing across roads just like a rabbit might across a field of long, lush grass, and it amazes me how well mule deer stay balanced.

Now that I am a bit older, I would love to go back to Yellowstone where I have seen many mule deer. I want to observe their actions and behavior with each other and other animals, too.


Northern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)

When I first saw a rattlesnake, I was fascinated. I saw the beautiful patterns on its scales, the sandy color of the body, and the rattle. The unique feature of the rattle are what rattlesnakes are named after. I always loved snakes, and looking at the rattlesnake had me mesmerized.

There are seven types of rattlesnakes in the Bay Area such as the western rattlesnake and the northern Pacific rattlesnake, with the Mojave rattlesnake being the deadliest in the area and in the world. Rattlesnakes are known for their fierce defensive behavior and deadly venom. Their colors are mostly sand-ish and gray-ish. Like a painting, most rattlesnakes are known for their diamond-like patterns, which the northern diamondback rattlesnake is named after. Ever since I was little, one of my favorite things to draw were rattlesnakes. The patterns were one of my favorite parts about drawing a rattlesnake.

Rattlesnakes are a silent but deadly predator. It will wait, staying completely silent and motionless, until its prey comes within striking distance. Then, it will strike its prey with one of the strongest venoms in California and swallow the prey whole. Rattlesnakes are a sword; they are fast and dangerous. They like to eat rabbits, mice, gophers, and many other rodents; however, big birds like eagles and hawks see rattlesnakes as prey, as do big mammals like mountain lions or coyotes. In California, rattlesnakes usually are around three to four feet long, with the largest one being the western diamondback rattlesnake, ranging four to six feet long. The rattlesnake is highly defensive and will strike if anything comes too close. The rattles are made of several hollow segments stuck together loosely, and when the rattlesnake rapidly shakes the tail, the segments hit against each other to make noise. It can even shake as fast as ninety times per second!

Usually found in plains or mountains, rattlesnakes like to live in warm temperatures that usually vary from eighty to ninety degrees. Because rattlesnakes are cold-blooded, the warm climate of the Bay Area is perfect for them. They mostly like to be left alone, not wanting any attention, usually traveling by themselves. On average, rattlesnakes are able to reproduce at age three, and they have an average of fourteen offspring. The birthing process lasts three to five hours on average. Rattlesnakes start mating in the spring from March to May, and the babies are born in the fall from August to October. Young rattlesnakes are born with a small button at the end of their tails, where they later grow a rattle. Baby rattlesnakes begin learning to hunt, eating small bugs and animals. As they start to grow, they eat bigger prey.

Rattlesnakes have been well known in the world of reptiles and snakes because of their fascinating abilities, dangerous venom, and their behavior. Rattlesnakes have been one of my favorite animals for a long time, ever since I saw one at the zoo. I hope in the future that I will be able to see different rattlesnakes in different places.


The rattlesnake is highly defensive and will strike if anything comes too close.


...they rely on their arms to help them move from tidepools to wave-washed, rocky shores.


Ochre Sea Star (Pisaster ochraceus)

My eyes were glued to the screen when a small, colorful sea star suddenly floated across the iPad. I had never seen something so magnificent in my life, and it was not until a few years later that I realized how important sea stars can be. I have never seen a sea star in person, but when I saw it on a computer, I noticed how interesting it truly is.

The ochre sea star plays a key role in the intertidal community as a keystone species. A keystone species is an animal that a certain community depends on, and without their presence, the ecosystem would change drastically. Because the sea star (a carnivore) feeds on mussels, clams, barnacles, sea urchins, and snails, it allows for more biodiversity in the intertidal community. It keeps these many species’ numbers in check, which is one reason it is a keystone species.

I remember looking at a picture of an ochre sea star and seeing that it has five arms with white spines that form lined patterns. Their colors range from brown, yellow, purple, and orange to red, like a garden filled with different vegetables and fruits. They measure about 6-14 inches (15-36 cm) across. The size of the sea star is dependent on its food supply. The sea star is found in the intertidal community, along the eastern Pacific Ocean from Alaska to Baja, California. As I have studied sea stars over the past few years, I have never seen a sea star as impressive as the ochre sea star.

That is not the only fascinating fact about this sea star. Ochre sea stars do not have a brain, and they rely on their arms to help them move from tidepools to wave-washed, rocky shores. Each arm has light-sensitive cells that help them support their visual perception, like having an eye mask on in the middle of the night and using your arms to guide you to the bathroom. When I first discovered this, my mouth turned as big as an orange, but I couldn’t help it. I mean, an animal without a brain? It shocked me how they could live up to twenty years in the intertidal zone without a brain while having sea otters and gulls hunting them. Speaking of arms, the ochre sea star can regrow a lost arm, which takes up to a year, like a tree’s leaves regrowing in a new season. They rely on their arms to do most of the work their entire life; for example, the sea star uses its tube feet to catch prey like a vacuum picking up dust from a carpet. There are so many characteristics of this sea star that, as humans, we can learn from.

In the future, I truly want to see an ochre sea star in person, perhaps in an aquarium. It would be really neat to see how their everyday life is and how they adapt to the challenges of living in the intertidal community. It would also be cool to compare a picture of the sea star online to one in real life to see the differences and similarities.


Olympia Oyster (Ostrea lurida)

I still remember that warm day where I tasted the unusual combination of salty, briny, squishy, and sweet for the first time. Though it happened many years ago, it feels like it happened yesterday. Driving to San Rafael, my brother, my dad, and I were all upset with each other. Oysters would be the thing to bring us together again. Oysters may look without personality, but in fact, oysters are more than meets the eye. As a spat or “baby” oyster, they begin as a male, then as they become older and more mature, they transition between the two genders. Generally oysters start to spawn when the temperature reaches around 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

After a long drive, we finally reached San Rafael, and my dad showed us Andy’s Market. As we walked in, we felt the cool air inside the store, and compared to the heat in the car, the air felt like a snow blizzard. As we walked through the market, we stopped thinking about the fight inside the car, though still there was uncomfortable tension.

A single oyster may look insignificant, but together they can be more complex in ways you can not even think of. An oyster reef is a massive structure that is made of thousands of oyster shells, like LEGOs, working together. Species such as mussels, barnacles, and sea anemones settle on the reefs. The fish include flounder, black sea bass, and Atlantic spadefish which generally come to lay eggs. Oysters connect to other animals like paper glued together.

As my dad started to become frustrated with my brother again about who knows what, my mom told my dad and I to go outside to cool down. Soon after, my dad and I had a minor argument. Of course, I was always on my brother’s side, fighting tooth and bone, but I also wanted to comfort my dad. He wanted to bring my family out to have fun and eat good food, but this trip was filled with frustration and arguments. I felt bad, and I prayed that something good would happen.

Even though oysters are giving and amazing creatures, sometimes people just do not appreciate them. You might say that oysters are a once in a while treat with hot sauce or spinach. And to think that way back 140,000 years ago, people could have the privilege to create an oyster midden, some consisting of 18.6 billion dead oyster shells!

Later when my dad and I were walking around Andy’s Market, we circled back to the front of the market, and to our surprise, we found a cart that sold barbecued oysters! My dad told me to retrieve my brother to ask if he wanted any, so I went to retrieve him, and when we came back, my dad was ordering. My brother told my dad that he wanted two oysters. I also wanted two, but my dad only wanted one. Since my mom is allergic to seafood, she could not have any. A couple minutes and bucks later, my brother and I would taste our first oysters.

As my brother, my dad, and I slowly chewed the squishy oyster like bubble gum, we burst out laughing about the unusual texture and taste of the mysterious mollusks. After that, we blurred out the stresses that the day brought, we just enjoyed each other’s company and the briny, salty, and flavorful taste of the oyster.


Oysters may look without personality, but in fact, oysters are more than meets the eye.


People usually never think of slugs as noteworthy creatures. They are just blobs of slime with


Pacific Banana Slug (Ariolimax columbianus)

People usually never think of slugs as noteworthy creatures. They are just blobs of slime with tentacles, right? But there is one specific type, the banana slug, that is a superhero among slugs.

I remember a few years ago when I was hiking at the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve, almost to the parking lot where my family car was, when I looked down and saw that I almost stepped on a banana slug. The thing was about as long as my head, and was moving so slowly that it wouldn’t have had time to get out of the way if I stepped on it. It had a yellow and brown coat, exactly like its namesake. I remember seeing a gaping hole in its side. I also saw two peculiar-shaped black eyes on two of its four tentacles. I walked away, ready to go home. I never even thought about the amazing qualities it had.

We’ll talk about the qualities later. First, the basics. The banana slug is native to the coastal forests of the West Coast of North America, with subspecies ranging from Southern California to Alaska, where the moist environment is vital to their survival. Many subspecies live around the San Francisco Bay Area. They can be up to 9.8 inches long and breathe through their skin. Two of the tentacles have eyes like black quinoa, and the other two can smell and feel the world around them. The tentacles are also retractable like a cat’s claws to protect the valuable sensors. If a tentacle falls off, it will grow back like how a lizard’s tail will regrow. Banana slugs may be found in large concentrations, five slugs per square meter are not uncommon. Engineers at MIT tried to copy the unique way slugs and snails move by building a “robo-snail,” which they hoped would be more stable and better able to traverse rough terrain than a robot that walks like a human or moves on wheels, like the slug on that steep hiking trail.

Also, banana slug slime is very important to the creature’s survival. If any predator tries to eat a banana slug, they will feel their mouth going numb and also find the slime very unpalatable and hard to wipe off. Snakes have even been found with their mouths stuck shut by slime! However, some predators will roll the banana slug in dirt to counteract the anesthetic. Slug slime was originally thought to behave like a bowl of spaghetti—the more tangled the strands, the thicker the mucus. But researchers studying the chemistry of slug slime at the University of Washington have found that it is a highly organized polymeric material that can absorb water extremely rapidly like a sponge—up to 100 times its initial volume. Once the mechanisms and molecules of slug slime are better understood, researchers foresee numerous potential applications in materials science and bioengineering, such as pollutant traps for sewage treatment plants, effective water-based lubricants, and improved surgical implants and wound coverings. Many engineers, biologists, and even medical doctors are still studying banana slugs.

If I had picked up that poor little banana slug that I had almost crushed a few years ago, instead of walking away, I would have had a terribly hard time wiping the slug slime off, and my hand would have gone completely numb. The banana slugs have such cool things to offer. Their amazing properties are helping humans so much, but they get the mouse’s share of the credit. The public finds larger animals, like lions and tigers and bears (oh my), far more interesting. It just goes to show that even the tiniest things can change everything.


Pacific Jumping Mouse (Zapus trinotatus)

The Pacific jumping mouse, or Zapus trinotatus, is an extremely interesting species. Just like its name implies, it can jump up to five feet, even though it is only 3.1 to 4.3 inches tall! That is like a six-foot tall human jumping 120 feet, twenty times their height. Zapus trinotatus can do this because it has really long hind legs that are disproportionate to the rest of their body. It is nocturnal and crepuscular, which means it is awake at night, and it dwells specifically during twilight. It is larger than the other members of its genus, and its tail length is often twice or more the length of its body. Zapus trinotatus uses its tail to land on its feet, which is like the old saying, “A cat always lands on its feet.” In winter, it enters a hibernation-like state called torpor. When it is in torpor, it doubles its body weight and drops its body temperature to two degrees celsius or 35.6 degrees fahrenheit, which is colder than the temperature outside.

In some ways, Zapus trinotatus is like a cat, which is funny because cats are actually some of its predators. Like I mentioned before, Zapus trinotatus is normally pretty gentle, but it can become aggressive when under stress. This reminds me of a cat, as a cat might be usually gentle, but if provoked, could become a bit aggressive. It only jumps when threatened, which reminds me of a cat because if someone scares a cat, the cat jumps up.

Zapus trinotatus and I have many things in common. It is normally gentle, but can become a bit nervous when threatened. I, too, can become a bit nervous when threatened, though I try to be usually gentle. I sometimes lash out a bit when I am stressed or agitated, which is like how Zapus trinotatus drums its tail against the ground. I swim, and they swim, too; they are excellent swimmers. I am in the water almost every day, whether it is for water polo or swimming. It eats mostly seeds but also fruit, berries, fish, and other foods. This reminds me of myself because I also do not eat meat like ham, bacon, chicken, beef, or lamb; I am vegetarian, but I am starting to eat fish, similar to Zapus trinotatus

Zapus trinotatus lives in groups of five to twenty, which is like humans living together in a neighborhood or another suburban area; however, it is more of a solitary creature, as it does not interact with the other mice it lives with except while breeding.

Zapus trinotatus is an incredibly interesting species which is not well known. In the future, I hope to learn more about this amazing species. If I am lucky, maybe one day I will see its amazing jumping power myself! Zapus trinotatus is a magnificent species which shows us that even if something is tiny, it can reach great heights.


...even if something is tiny, it can reach great heights.


The pipevine swallowtail is like a flower coming from a crack in the pavement.


Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly (Battus philenor)

I have adored butterflies my whole life. In the early summer, when the butterflies are coming out, it is a sight to see. The pipevine swallowtail is like a flower coming from a crack in the pavement. It is a stunning blue color beside a sunlit field. I, for one, have only had one experience with this majestic creature, but it was one I will remember for a long time.

The pipevine swallowtail mainly relies on one plant, which is California pipevine (Aristolochia californica), because these newly hatched caterpillars have special needs. The California pipevine and its close relatives are the only plant home to aristocholic acids, which are toxic and deadly to most creatures. These caterpillars use this to their advantage. When the newly born caterpillars emerge out of their eggs, they start eating to concentrate the poisonous acids within themselves, making themselves poisonous.

Even though their toxicity gives them an advantage on other butterflies, this butterfly is so reliant on California pipevine, it is one of the only plants its digestive system can process. Unfortunately, people in the Bay have been planting elegant Dutchman’s pipevine in their yards for decoration. A mother butterfly might mistake this plant as California pipevine, and lay their eggs on that plant. Sadly, after the eggs have hatched, they will slowly starve to death.

Tim Wong, an aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences, single-handedly saved the species by catching and raising pipevine swallowtails at his home. The reason he was so successful when not in the field is that he found out that the butterfly could only eat California pipevine from the experiments he did in his backyard. In fact, he made the pipevine swallowtail so well known that it is the official mascot of the Chico State Etymology Club.

The pipevine swallowtail has some pretty cool characteristics. It is as big as a credit card. This butterfly has been in the Bay Area for a long time, giving other butterflies a chance to mimic its poisonous appearance. The spicebush swallowtail has evolved over thousands of years to be very similar to the pipevine swallowtail, just like people on Halloween. Back when I was eight years old, I discovered some eggs on a plant in the garden. I was so young that I had no idea where they came from. A few days later, I finally remembered the eggs I saw, but they were gone; however, the plant had some newly created holes. They were not big. I realized that the plant was full of caterpillars. I went to Stanford Golf Camp and played some golf with my friends. I still thought about the caterpillars. When I went back to check on the plant, there were blue butterflies in my garden. I went to find my mom, but the sun was setting and the butterflies were leaving. “Maybe next time,” I said, as the blue butterflies flew away in the night.


Red Abalone (Haliotis rufescens)

Abalone are dying. I only know this because of one classmate in first grade who announced to the class this fact about the fabulous abalone. The magnificent animal has been with me ever since. I walk down the steps to the lower school mansion about to start first grade, my stomach turning and hurting. I squeeze my mom’s hand while I walk through the door. Everyone is talking and smiling. I have a blank face. When my mom leaves, it is just the other kids and I. I do not know anyone but the teachers. I finally meet some people, but they are not exactly friends. Later in the day, we sit down and brainstorm class names. “The Cute Kitties!” or “The Rainbow Pandas” comes up, but the name that stands out to me is the name “Blue Abalone.” The magnificent creature is so beautiful and so fascinating! Now, as I look back, I feel so grateful that that one classmate shared the beautiful creature, abalone, with me.

There are many different types of abalone. There are red, white, black, green, pink, pinto, threaded, and flat abalone. Their textures, tentacle colors, and shell shapes are different. Even though those characteristics might not sound that different, they are. Each species shares a story, a different background. Just like abalone, humans are all different, too! They have different identities, personalities, bodies, and colors.

When I step into the classroom on my first day, the children are not all exactly the same. They are all different and special! That is one thing I love about abalone: they are never the same. They are always different. Sometimes, two people fight about who is better in class until they realize it does not really matter. Well, that type of fighting also happens underwater where the abalone are. In 2013, twenty sea star species died away. This made the purple sea urchin population increase because starfish are predators of sea urchins. When that happened, red abalone and purple sea urchins fought for the bull kelp, which is why there are only 1,600 to 2,500 red abalones in California.

Like when some people push us down and our friends and family bring us back up, abalone are pushed down by kelp forests and are crushed by marine sea waves, which also affects their habitat. Upsettingly, this decrease of habitat kills abalone. The warmer the ocean becomes, the fewer abalone are in the sea. It’s like when more people push you down by bullying, the harder it is to get yourself up to good spirits.

I have felt pushed down many times.

As a first grader, I only noticed how abalone are cool, but now as a 5th grader I look at abalone in a whole new way. They are not just animals, they have souls. They have feelings. They have thoughts. And it is our job to protect them.

102 is our job to protect them.

Right now looking back and remembering that connection makes me think that humans and animals may have more

Red-winged Blackbird

(Agelaius phoeniceus)

It was a bright day. I opened my eyes just seconds ago and saw the world for the first time. I was born at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York on the 22nd of April, 2013. For the first few months of my life, I could not crawl very well and I definitely could not walk. I went to lots of restaurants with my parents. This meant I was either being carried or being pushed around in a stroller to the restaurants. My parents tried to make me walk on my own or at least start to crawl, and after maybe a year after I was born, I started crawling all over the house. This did not help the fact that my parents wanted me to walk with them to restaurants, but it worked for moving around the house. After another nine months of training, I had finally begun to walk and I remember having my parents put on tiny cute shoes on my little feet to walk around outside. By a little over one year old, I was running around the playground with my friends, like how the red-winged blackbird brothers fly out of their nest at fourteen days old to play around the treetops.

The red-winged blackbirds usually travel in groups to have company, like how I always stayed with my family no matter where they go. I went to restaurants and traveled with them. The red-winged blackbird is about 8.7 inches long, about the size of a straightened banana, which I love. The red-winged blackbird lives in a wet environment like the bathtub I have to call my own.

Female red-winged blackbirds layed about two to six eggs in their nest once a year and wait patiently for seven days for their chicks to hatch. Like a wolf, red-winged blackbirds live up to sixteen years old. Redwinged blackbirds have a varied diet. They eat mostly different types of insects and nuts.

The red-winged blackbird has a thick layer of black feathers with a small blob of red on the shoulders like a burned match that caught on fire. Red-winged blackbirds are very territorial. They protect their nests with their lives, like how a dog defends his owner’s property by howling and barking when strangers step onto the yard. The red-winged blackbirds travel very far to feed their family, like the tired and hungry animals of the desert that travel miles just to drink water. Finally, the red-winged blackbirds leave their nests shortly after they are born, like how I started walking just a year after I was born.

I just opened my eyes, I saw the world for the first time. After a few months of staying at home, sitting there doing nothing, I decided to sit up, crawl around, and show off my new crawling skills to my parents. Right now, looking back and remembering that connection makes me think that humans and animals may have more things in common than we think, even if they are little things.


Rough-skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa)

Imagine you are a little brown newt, scurrying along the forest’s floor. You are trying to move back to the water for mating season, which is starting soon, but as you look for a path, a snake comes up behind you. The snake lunges towards you, going for a bite and thinking, Breakfast is served! But this snake has made a terrible mistake, for the rough-skinned newt has a weapon of its own, a poison able to kill this snake easily. This poor decision has cost this snake its life. The newt is safe, and it can bustle back to the river and find itself a mate.

I have never personally seen a rough-skinned newt, but my friend, Konrad, has. Konrad’s mom convinced him to go on a hike in the forest, and Konrad agreed. The sun smiled down upon them. While in the forest, Konrad looked for little creatures under logs, rocks, and dirt. Under a log, a small newt peeked out, wondering who this big person was, why they were here, and probably thinking, Stay out of my forest, you big ogre!

Rough-skinned newts are splashed with colors, such as red, yellow, brown, and orange, like a smoldering fireplace in winter. They can be medium and large, varying like trees. They have rough skin, similar to a rock or tree bark, hence their name.

Rough-skinned newts have a neurotoxin twenty times more potent than cyanide. They have enough to fatally injure more than twenty adult humans. Due to this powerful poison, almost no animals can survive ingesting a rough-skinned newt, with the exception of the common garter snake. Whenever rough-skinned newts are threatened, they roll over. This position reveals their bright orange underside that warns predators of their toxicity.

The rough-skinned newt is usually nocturnal, but sometimes it exhibits crepuscular behavior. They are resilient, and I imagine that they can endure impossible hardships.

They live on water and land, similar to sand. Usually, rough-skinned newts live on land, but they have to return to the water to drink and/or mate.

Rough-skinned newts are solitary and can be found from Santa Cruz to the Nearctic. Their diet consists of insects, eggs, larvae of other salamanders, and sometimes small fish. If they are to die from natural causes, they usually die at around eighteen years old. They reproduce like us humans and lay eggs like other amphibians.

The rough-skinned newt is able to survive in a world of danger, and they make themselves the predator and not the prey. These newts can survive many terrible hardships of life, and even if I may never be able to see an animal as exquisite as the rough-skinned newt, I can still imagine it crawling along the dirt, bustling away, hiding under logs and rocks, and trying to find a place it can truly call home.

...the rough-skinned newt has a weapon of its own...

Salt-marsh harvest mice are excellent climbers.


Salt-marsh Harvest Mouse



Salt-marsh harvest mice are excellent climbers. Their agile bodies and wide feet are perfect for climbing and their tail, which they use for balance, makes climbing stems easier. They are like humans climbing trees, except for the fact that they are much better. You do not have to be good at climbing to enjoy it. That is what I think when I climb. In the past, before I went to rock climbing gyms, I climbed rocks. From rocks, I moved to climbing trees. Trees are way more difficult to climb and you need to be careful. You need to find the right limbs to put your feet on; however, when you practice more, you can scramble up the trunk and branches like a squirrel. Nobody thinks that a mouse could possibly be a better climber than a squirrel, especially for their small size.

The salt-marsh harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys raviventris) is a unique animal. For example, it is only found in habitats around the San Francisco Bay. It also has the ability to drink salt water. Like birds, they build nests instead of burrowing. Salt-marsh harvest mice are very good swimmers, an uncommon skill for any mouse. It is an endangered species. The salt-marsh harvest mouse lives in marshes, wetlands, and places where the ocean meets the land, also known as intertidals. It lives in these places because the Bay is made of brackish water and brackish marshes, which is their preferred habitat, especially if there is an abundance of pickleweed (Salicornia). Pickleweed is a kind of succulent. It is called pickleweed because it tastes salty. This plant grows in salt marshes and is the mouse’s main diet.

The rodent will not likely be found in areas with cordgrass (Spartina) or alkali bulrush. The salt-marsh harvest mouse likes areas that people do not often visit. They are usually solitary creatures. Though they are amazing swimmers, they live on higher ground away from tides. On occasion, they might visit grasslands in nearby marshes. They are herbivores, as well.

The salt-marsh harvest mouse has a crimson red belly. I cannot help noticing just how amazing the saltmarsh harvest mouse is. It is very cute and really special. It is as unique as all the colors in the world. Nobody will find any animal like it. Everyone thinks rodents are pests and very few understand that not all mice are like that. It was just the environment that they were born into that shaped what the mice did to survive. Salt-marsh harvest mice are not the pests in your house that you try to kill or get rid of. They are a unique animal that is only found here. They are one of the wonders that this world has.

Just as quick as a salt-marsh harvest mouse, I scramble up a climbing wall and wonder if I will ever meet an animal as wonderful as the salt-marsh harvest mouse.


San Francisco Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia)

The San Francisco garter snake is as graceful as a swan; it cuts through the grass barely making a sound in search of unsuspecting prey and BAM! Quick as an arrow, it strikes its prey. They are an amazing species and we should do everything in our power to protect them. Sometimes when I am down I think to myself, I am as brave as a garter snake, for these snakes are one of the bravest creatures on Earth; they are sly survivalists trying to stay alive in nature. Against all odds, they try to survive harsh weather and predators. Sadly, there are only about two thousand San Francisco garter snakes left in the wild. There could be even fewer garter snakes, but they have adapted to be elusive and difficult to capture. They have a mild venom in their saliva, but thankfully, it is not enough to hurt a human.

In the past San Francisco garter snakes thrived, but they died out due to agricultural development and invasive species. The invasive species that do the most harm to the garter snake is the American bullfrog. Bullfrogs forage for the same food at the same time as the garter snake, which is known as seasonal competition.

San Francisco garter snakes were labeled endangered on March 11, 1967. After they received this status, the state of California passed a law disallowing their possession as pets in households.

Even though these snakes are called the San Francisco garter snake, they were first found in San Mateo County. Of the three types of garter snakes that live in the Bay Area, they are the rarest. The coastal garter snake and the Santa Cruz garter snake are the other two. These snakes symbolize immortality and fresh starts because they shed their skin, and it is like they are gaining a second chance. “Just as a snake sheds its skin, we must shed our past over and over again,” said Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism.

These animals live in wet, marshy areas with access to vegetated ponds, sun, and frogs. The only recorded sightings of the species are on the coast as opposed to inland. Their diet includes Pacific tree frogs, western toads, mosquitoes, other fish, worms, newts, and salamanders. Also, they are one of the few species that can eat the toxic California newt. Ironically, they prey on an endangered species like themselves, called the red legged frog.

The San Francisco garter snake is undoubtedly the most awesome reptile in all of California and maybe even in all of the United States of America. They are slender and about three feet long. They have an orange head, a greenish-yellow back bordered by red and black stripes, and big, round eyes. Male San Francisco garter snakes have thicker and longer tails than females. Mating season is in spring and then females give birth to around sixteen live babies in July and August.

What should we do to help the San Francisco garter snake? For starters, we should set aside more unfarmed land for the San Francisco garter snake and replant unused farmland with native plants. We could also educate people about this species so that they are not afraid of these snakes and they can convince their representatives in government to protect the species.

I hope that you help contribute to the cause of saving this amazing species. Together, we can increase the numbers of San Francisco garter snakes living amongst us.


in our power to protect them.


They are still in danger from both oil spills and humans to this day...


Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris)

Have you ever seen a sea otter floating on the ocean? I see them all the time when I go to Jenner to kayak. I often see them floating around the beach seemingly observing us as we pass by. You can often see them floating on their backs sunbathing and napping. Sometimes sea otters tangle themselves in kelp to stop themselves from moving in the water. This way, they can enjoy their sunbathing.

Otters are about four feet long and are fifty to seventy pounds. Sea otters have no blubber or fat; therefore, they rely solely on their fur to stay warm. In order to stay waterproof, sea otters must groom themselves almost constantly. Their fur has up to one million hairs per square inch, so it is warm, like a jacket. Sometimes when I am kayaking, I see them licking their fur to stay groomed. In a way, otters are just like me, as playful as pups. Otters are just like humans in that they are social, love to play, and love to hang out with others.

An otter’s diet range is enormous. They like to eat things like sea urchins, crabs, and other seafood, including invertebrates. In this vast sea of food, otters tend to eat similar or the same, foods as their mothers. To get to the soft flesh of things such as mussels and other invertebrates with hard shells, they grab a rock, lie on their backs, and smash the invertebrate open with the rock. In this way, they can eat things with hard shells. Otters keep themselves clean by licking their fur after meals.

Otters are endangered because people hunt and kill them for their fur. In the early twentieth century, sea otters were almost hunted to extinction for their fur since it is so warm and soft. They are still in danger from both oil spills and humans to this day; however, sea otters are now protected under the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and California state law. Despite this, the sea otter population has been decreasing since 2016. When they are wild in the sea, they have an average lifespan of up to twenty-three years, which is quite a long life for a wild animal.

Sea otters relate to me in many ways. They have many traits that are similar to me, such as a love to play, and I feel very close to them. Sea otters are very cute, and I always look forward to seeing them swimming around in the water playing together. Seeing them playing around in the water always makes me happy and brightens my day. Sometimes I wish I could spend all my life with them to make sure they are protected and unharmed. I hope that sea otters continue to live and thrive so I can continue to see them when I visit Jenner.


Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus)

At the crack of dawn, I awake to a warm spring morning, the sun smiling from the sky. As I sit in bed, sipping warm water, there is nothing better than watching as the waves gently slide back and forth on the sand. As far as the eye can see, flocks of shorebirds huddle together, singing the songs of the ocean. Watching plovers feed is rather tedious, as they run and stop, pecking at the sand for insects and crustaceans. Gazing through the open window, I can only watch as the birds return to their nests. Lined with pebbles, scraps of wood, kelp, and shells, the nests of the plovers blend in perfectly with the sandy landscape.

I then notice a raccoon lurking in the shadows of the nearby forest. As it approaches a baby snowy plover, the plover’s mother lets out a distressed cry and the raccoon loses interest as it notices a crayfish crawling along the shore and quickly trots off.

Snowy plovers have many predators including raccoons, falcons, coyotes, foxes, owls, and other types of birds. Unfortunately, snowy plovers are considered nearly threatened by the Endangered Species Act, and national parks believe that there are only 2,500 snowy plovers left across the Pacific Coast.

Snowy plovers weigh an eighth of a pound and are fifteen to seventeen centimeters in length. They have a wingspan of thirty-five centimeters. Like different kinds of wood, plovers come in a variety of colors. Snowy plovers tend to be a pale, sandy brown on the top and white on the bottom, and their feathers can change from white to black, brown, or gray.

Though small, snowy plovers are extremely protective of their loved ones and become especially aggressive in their territories.

Unfortunately, snowy plovers, like many other birds, do not live for long, and their average lifespan in the wild is around two to four years; however, the oldest snowy plover recorded was over fifteen years old.

During the winter, snowy plovers eat and rest to store fat, while in spring and summer, they nest in colonies. Mating season lasts from early spring to late autumn.

Male snowy plovers use a call similar to a tu-wheet to attract female snowy plovers during mating season. Their eggs are about three centimeters in length and two centimeters in height. The average clutch size for snowy plovers is two to six eggs. The incubation period can range from twenty-two to thirty-three days. Though both parents take care of the eggs, females usually take day duty while the males watch the eggs during the night.

Snowy plovers are considered to be the cutest type of plovers, and as the sun fully emerges over the horizon, the only thing you can do is smile as you watch as the little birds flutter across the sand, flocking together joyfully, dashing from the waves.


Sticky monkey-flowers are not just beautiful and in abundance, but are also helpful for humans.

Sticky Monkey-flower (Mimulus aurantiacus)

I am ten years old and I have just been on a hike at Golden Gate Park. There, I saw many spectacular plants such as the California poppy, the California daisy, and the seaside blackberry. There was this one plant that stood out to me. It was the sticky-monkey flower. It was different from the other flowers. It was not just a flower, it was a monkey flower.

I am guessing that it was a monkey flower because it looked like a monkey. Its name was Mimulus aurantiacus. Mimulus means “little mime or comic actor.” Also, the sticky-monkey flower is part of the snapdragon or scrophulariaceae family. Furthermore, the sticky-monkey flower has a sticky resin that is 30 percent of its weight. The resin is used to keep away some hungry caterpillars.

The next day, I arrived home from school and I sat on the couch looking at pictures of the sticky-monkey flower on my laptop. I noticed that there was a digital picture of the variable checkerspot butterfly on a sticky-monkey flower. I did some further research and found out that the variable checkerspot butterfly raises its larvae on the sticky-monkey flower. Then, the larvae start to eat the sticky-monkey flower’s leaves. Unlike other caterpillars, the resin on their sticky-monkey flower is nutritious to the variable checkerspot butterfly. Once I saw this, I had a crazy thought, If the variable checkerspot butterfly can eat sticky-monkey flowers, then can I? I knew it was likely impossible, but I decided to start looking for sticky-monkey flowers. Sadly, I could not find any to taste, but I did find out that both the leaves and the flower are edible. Also, they taste as refreshing as a mint, so I ate a mint to make myself feel better.

I went to school the next day and could not stop thinking about the sticky-monkey flower. Once I came home, my mom hugged me and then started tickling me for fun, but then my body just naturally huddled up. Then, I remembered that the sticky-monkey flower closed up its stigma after a few seconds to prevent too much pollination. I also recall that the sticky-monkey flower likes to grow in sunlight, and I preferred being in the light rather than in the dark. Only then did I realize I have more in common with the sticky-monkey flower than I thought.

When I found out that their life span is three to five years, I felt really bad for the sticky-monkey flower for having a considerably short life. I knew I could not do anything about it, so I decided to enjoy these flowers as much as possible while I could. The good part is that they reproduce quite easily and that they bloom from July to September. I was also really happy when I found out that sticky-monkey flowers are not endangered and are pretty common to find. The impression of this flower will forever be in my heart, and I will remember it forever and ever. I really look forward to seeing the spectacular things about the sticky-monkey flower again.


“Aria, let’s go!”

“Mom, I don’t want to go!”

Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)

“Well we are all waiting for you, even your grandma.”

I was dreading this hike for a month because it would be fifteen miles long and entirely muddy, but this time, I had to do it for my family. When we walked into the car, it was as cold as Antarctica. At first, I was not sure that I wanted to keep going, but as we walked, I saw a beautiful river, a green forest with historic redwood trees, and a majestic open field. I realized this was actually quite fun. Finally, we saw the top of the peak and the view was flawless.

“Aria, do you like the view?”

“Dad, the view is delightful!”

When we started hiking back, I noticed a little, red, raspberry-like thing. Its color was as warm as a summer night. The berry plants were at least five feet tall like a giant and grew like a pack of penguins. The leaves were as soft as velvet.

I started to pick some when I remembered that they might be poisonous; however, I discovered they were not poisonous because I saw a butterfly eat one. As I kept walking, I saw more of these red things, so I picked some more. Then, I saw a deer chewing a bunch of juicy berries.

“Mom, can I try one of these?”

“I think you can. It doesn’t seem poisonous.”

I found one that was soft and ripe underneath a big leaf.

“Yum, these are delicious! They are so scrumptious! Mom, Dad, try one!”

They tasted as sweet as heaven.

“Yummy! We should bring a bag home with us.”

On the way back, I asked my mom to look up what the fruit was, and she said that it was called a thimbleberry. Once we drove home, I looked at the bag and saw all of them smashed.

“Mom, all of the thimbleberries are smashed.”

“Well what should we do now?”

“Maybe we can make a jam or something that can be added with liquid fruit.” When we poured the liquid out into a bowl, I thought of the best idea.

“Let’s just make a pie!”

“That’s a great idea!”

When we took the pie out of the oven it smelled like paradise, and we finished it instantly!

“Yum that pie was delicious!!”

You could eat thimbleberries plain, in a jam, in a pie, etc. They’re juicy, flavorful, and so mouthwatering! Not only is it tasty, but it also has vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium, and iron. Now our tradition is that whenever we go hiking during mid-July to late August, the best time to pick thimbleberries, is to pick some and bring them home. Instead of dreading hikes, this discovery of the thimbleberry makes me ecstatic about hiking.


Not only is it tasty, but it also has vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium, and iron.

During the spring, flowers attract butterflies and

Western Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)

I can only imagine what western blue-eyed grass, also known as blue-eyed grass, will look like in my garden. The starry blue, violet, and sometimes white flowers with bright yellow centers will pop out amongst the other bushes. I can picture the grassy leaves and stems blending in with the other bushes and grasses around it. When it is gloomy or rainy outside, the flowers of the western blue-eyed grass close up and resemble other plants. As part of the iris family, western blue-eyed grass blends in with irises even more than it does with other flowers or plants.

I have never seen or heard of a plant that is fire-resistant before in my life. Apparently though, there are some fire-resistant plants in the world. Western blue-eyed grass is just one example of a fire-resistant plant. It is also an example of a drought-resistant plant. This makes western blue-eyed grass a great option for me to plant in California due to the state’s droughts and wildfires. Deer and insects do not bother eating western blue-eyed grass. They tend to avoid it. I wonder if it helps protect the plants around it from the deer and insects, too. That is another reason that we are planting western blue-eyed grass.

Can you believe that the Coast Miwok and the Ohlone made tea from the roots of this plant? Each native community had a different purpose for the tea. The Coast Miwok used the tea to help with stomach aches, while the Ohlone used it to help with fevers.

I am surprised that each individual flower is only an inch in diameter! With tall stems three to eighteen inches tall and leaves like thin green ribbons, it is difficult to imagine the plant having bottle cap-sized flowers. And how can such small flowers be able to close up when it is raining or cloudy outside? What would such small flowers look like next to other plants? It is even harder to imagine and a little bit sad, how each little star shaped flower only lasted one single day. But would anyone even notice the flowers lasting a single day? Western blue-eyed grasses grow in clumps, just like the monarch butterflies cluster in trees when they migrate. That covers up the fact that each flower only lasts a day. If I do notice, I know that I will be sad to see the beautiful blue, violet, and occasionally white flowers disappear. I miss the fragrentless flowers during the summer when they go dormant for the season and do not flower again until the spring. During the spring, the clumps of flowers attract butterflies and birds, as the birds like to eat the seeds. Since butterflies are attracted to the flowers of the western blue-eyed grass, this plant is great for any garden.

Even though I can imagine what western blue-eyed grass looks like outside or in my garden, I have never actually seen it in person. I hope, now that I know more about western blue-eyed grass, I will notice it more. I am sure that when it is flowering, the small blue, violet, and occasionally white flowers will stand out to me.


Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)

Sometimes I see something scurrying mysteriously through the tall grass, keeping itself hidden from my eyes. The sense of mystery fascinates me. This creature is most likely a lizard, probably a lizard called the western fence lizard, whose population is concentrated in California.

When I moved to the United States, I once made the mistake of saying exactly what I was thinking out loud. That was a very, very big mistake, and I humiliated myself in front of my friends at school. At that moment, I wished that I could run away or do something to “escape.” It just turns out western fence lizards have just about everything that I would have needed to make me feel better at that moment.

The western fence lizard is a very unique animal. It has another name which is shorter, the “blue-belly.” This is named after, of course, their blue bellies. They have the ability to drop their tails, confusing their predators for a moment. They use this moment to run away, becoming as fast as lightning. They also utilize their small size, two to three inches, to fit in small gaps to aid their escape. This is what I probably would have needed to escape that moment, to be able to drop my tail and run, using confusion to my advantage.

Western fence lizards also have a third eye that is not an eye. This eye is, instead, a translucent scale on the back of their head that allows them to see above their head. Nowadays, I feel like I have developed a third eye, one that seeks out danger.

Western fence lizards also serve as predator and prey. They prey mostly on beetles, ants, flies, caterpillars, and spiders. They are also dependent on sunlight to maintain their body temperature, making them easy targets for raptors, snakes, and shrews. In the case that they are able to spot a predator before the predator sees them, they play dead in an attempt to preserve themselves. They rely on external forces like the sun, making them very vulnerable to climate change, as the resulting temperatures that come along with it will throw off their body temperature.

During mating season, the males show off their blue bellies in a “push-up” stance. They are more territorial during this period, as they are competing for females. In normal circumstances, they are less territorial, but they still compete for food. Eggs for the lizards depend on an enzyme that becomes more active with heat. More activity means that the lizard will be female and less activity means that a male lizard is going to be born.

Urbanization is an important factor these days, as there are more people, houses, and need for land, pushing the animals out of their habitats. Most of these urbanized places used to be home to the western fence lizards. The lizards in the area, however, are adapting. Studies show that lizards in more urbanized areas have shorter limbs and toes. This is likely because they mostly move on concrete ground instead of woody terrain. The western fence lizard is trying to gain an edge, going on its tip-toes, for survival. Maybe adaptation has helped them survive through the years. Mystery still shrouds them because we know little about them; they may be hiding in the forest somewhere, maybe doing some behavior that was unobserved before.


I felt invincible, like a pygmy-blue butterfly soaring through the stars.


Western Pygmy-blue Butterfly (Brephidium exilis)

On the day I turned ten, I knew I would stand out during karate tournaments. I spent half of my life training in martial arts and traveling across California to compete against other kids and teens, some of whom were almost twice my size. Despite being small in stature, I never let that hold me back. It only made me more determined to succeed like the pygmy-blue butterfly, small but mighty, capable of achieving great things despite its size.

The pygmy-blue butterfly is a tiny insect that belongs to the Lycaenidae family. The vibrant orange and red coloration of its wings is sure to capture your attention at first glance. The blue hue on its wings is a subtle yet eye-catching detail that some do not notice. It has a white fringe on the edge of its wings. They look almost like delicate snowflakes or strands of silk, and they give the pygmy-blue butterfly a unique and enchanting appearance.

The moment I arrived at the tournament, I found myself intimidated by the competition. The other participants were exceptionally skilled, making me feel insignificant and vulnerable. At that moment, I could not help but think of the pygmy-blue butterfly, which is often targeted by a variety of predators such as bees, flies, crickets, and other insects. Despite its small size, this butterfly must constantly evade danger to survive.

It is about one-fourth to half an inch long. That is as small as a quarter of your fingernail. It is the smallest butterfly in America and one of the smallest butterflies in the world. Because of its size, it flies much slower than other insects. Instead, it uses the wind to pull it wherever it needs to go. The pygmy-blue butterfly migrates in the summer, and this method of flying uses way less energy and prevents the butterfly from being tired from the heat.

With each passing moment, my nerves began to fade away. I moved with ease, like a pygmy-blue butterfly fluttering through the air. Swaying and gliding through the warm summer breeze, surrendering to the pull of gravity and letting myself be carried away.

Waiting anxiously as everyone performed, I screamed in my head, Would you please hurry up?! It felt like a year before the judges decided (I almost fell asleep). Finally, it was time.

“We are going to go from fourth place to first,” the judge said.

The guy who received fourth competed decently, the girl who medaled third was much better than me, the guy who was second did very well, and that completely ruined my chances of placing. I think they forgot who was in first place because they checked the clipboard again and announced the winner: Sonali. For a few seconds, I completely forgot that my name was Sonali until it occurred to me that I had gotten first place.

As the judge placed the medal around my neck, I felt invincible, like a pygmy-blue butterfly soaring through the stars.



The Nueva School fifth-grade class would like to express our deep appreciation to…

World of Wonders writer Aimee Nezhukumatathil and illustrator Fumi Nakamura for inspiring these pieces with their marvelous work.

Seventh-grade students Kylie E-M., Lucia v. G., and Mia T. for their dazzling graphic design of this volume.

Our teachers Cristina Veresan, Becky Turner, Reenie Charrière, and associate teacher Allison Gerhard for their guidance during this collaborative project.

Educator and author Cliff Burke for co-developing this wonder essay curriculum with Cristina Veresan during his time at Nueva.

Middle School Head Karen Tiegel, Assistant Middle School Head Kelly Ward, and Assistant Director of Communications Rachel Freeman for their enthusiastic support of this book.

Digital Communications Manager LiAnn Yim for her design of the original 2021 Bay Area Wonders: In Praise of Redwoods, Sea Otters, and Other Astonishments volume and her ongoing guidance to the design team.

Our families for providing us with opportunities to find wonder in the natural world.


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